AG lays out his priorities for next year before Assembly Budget Committee

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Attorney General Gurbir Grewal told the committee he has four priorities: revitalizing environmental enforcement, fighting the opioid crisis, reducing gun violence and strengthening police-community relations. Also, promoting trust in law enforcement.

“At a time when surveys across the country show that Americans are losing confidence in all of our public institutions, it is particularly important that we provide a model of good and effective government,” said Grewal.

The Department of Law and Public Safety is a sprawling agency. It has 7,700 employees overseeing gambling, alcoholic beverages, consumer affairs, and it includes the state police. Its budget is reduced by 8% in the governor’s spending plan to $565 million.

“I see your budget went down a bit. How did you do that?” asked Assemblywoman Patricia Jones.

Grewal cited reductions in state police overtime and reduced use of outside legal counsel. The attorney general is a Democrat who has filed a number of lawsuits against the Trump administration.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Assemblyman John DiMaio, chided him over a recent murder in Jersey City — a female jogger shot and killed by a twice-deported undocumented immigrant.

“There’s no stated reason for this senseless murder, but the reason it occurred is most likely because Jersey City is a, what we call a sanctuary city. Do you think protecting illegal immigrants with bad records is a good idea?” asked DiMaio.

“We have this discussion about sanctuary cities, I don’t know what that means from my perspective because we are not giving anyone a free pass to commit crime. As you can see, our local prosecutors and our local police department investigated and prosecuted that case as they do every criminal case,” Grewal responded.

Conversely, an inner-city Democrat pressed Grewal on police-involved shootings.

“Unfortunately, this is not a New Jersey issue. This has become national issue with men of color with police-related shootings. And as a father of four, you know, young men that are black and three that drive, it’s a major concern,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly.

“I think we all agree on the same end goal, and we’re doing everything possible to get to that place as soon as we can,” Grewal said.

The attorney general covered a lot of ground in his more than two-hour testimony. He was followed by the chief administrator of New Jersey’s court system, Judge Glenn Grant.

Grant brought several messages. One was that bail reform has greatly reduced the jail population.

“Yesterday, we released our annual report on criminal justice reform, and it confirms through statistical evidence that the program is working as intended,” Grant said.

Another message, the chief justice wants an overhaul of municipal courts.

“As the chief justice recently acknowledged, there is a need to do more to improve access and fairness and to ensure judicial independence in our municipal court,” he said.

Budget hearings continue through April and part of May.