NJTV News Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron was in the Assembly chamber during the State of the State speech and afterwards spoke with high ranking members of the Assembly and Senate, Assemblyman Jon Bramnick and Sen. Ray Lesniak.
Aron: I’m here with a Democrat and a Republican from the Legislature. Sen. Ray Lesniak of Elizabeth, Chairman of the Senate Economic Gross Committee and Assembly Majority Leader Jon Bramnick of Westfield. What did you think of the speech?
Lesniak: I think it was Gov. Christie’s finest moment. I’ve been fighting this battle of drug addiction for over 10 years now, reducing prison sentences so people could get treatment for their drug addiction and starting a recovery school. He has identified a very, very serious problem and offered solutions to that. I wish he would have gone a little further and declared substance use a disability so that children could get additional help, like in my recovery school, but he really attacked this problem and he identified it with a seriousness. It was Gov. Christie’s finest moment in my opinion.
Aron: Well, that’s interesting coming from a harsh critic of the governor. How about you assemblyman, what did you think?
Bramnick: Exactly, I think he showed his humanity, his concern for fellow man and, based on all of the negative press he has gotten over the last couple of years, I think that turned the tide making him, let’s say, more real for people. That’s the person I know, so I’m really happy that he showed that humanity, which I believe he always had.
Aron: He called on the Legislature to, within 30 days, pass a bill that would mandate that insurance companies cover in-patient substance abuse treatment for up to six months. That’s not the kind of mandate that we would normally hear from a Republican. Is it going to happen within 30 days?
Lesniak: Twenty-nine days, and that’s what we’ve been calling on, Democrats and I have been calling for it, for quite a while. I also like the fact that he is taking my legislation on prescription of opioids — reducing that and holding them accountable —
Aron: You have a bill that would do it?
Lesniak: Oh yes, we’ve had public hearings on it. We are going to be moving — we will move it — but he’ll do it by executive order which is going right away.
Aron: Did he also order doctors and dentists to stop prescribing month-long supplies of these drugs?
Lesniak: Yeah, exactly. When I got a root canal and I got a 30-day supply of Percocet and I only used one and threw the rest away, but that’s a real problem. Doctors have been fighting it, but taking the attorney general and enforcing restrictions on opioid prescriptions is a big step. Huge step.
Aron: You work with the speaker a lot. Do you think the speaker and the Senate president are going to get on board this train and move it within 30 days?
Bramnick: Absolutely, I looked up at the speaker I looked at the Senate president, I saw Tom Kean next to me stand up — that’s going to get done and it should get done. This is where we call out the insurance companies, denies are over. Someone who has a drug problem in this state is going to get that treatment and insurance companies are going to pay for it and I can guarantee you that.
Aron: You can? Will insurance companies fight that or are they going to go along with it?
Bramnick: I wish them luck, they are going to need it.
Aron: He took on pharmaceutical companies too. He accused them of putting profit ahead of lives. I don’t know whether there was a policy prescription there or just some rhetoric.
Lesniak: Well, it was rhetoric, but the bottom line is they’ve profited billions of dollars by pushing these opioids and somebody is going to pay the piper. It shouldn’t be the thousands of children and families who are addicted as a result of over prescribing these drugs.
Aron: He also came down hard on alcohol and marijuana as gateway to drug addiction. I am going to start with you [Lesniak] because you probably favor legalizing marijuana.
Lesniak: Well actually as a person in recovery movement for quite a while. I founded Raymond J. Lesniak Experience, Strength and Hope Recovery School for children who have substance abuse issues, I do not support the legalization of marijuana. I think the jury is out. I have an open mind but we have to make sure that all the evidence is in before we go in that direction.
Aron: Are you as hard core as Christie has been on marijuana? He just will not legalize marijuana.
Bramnick: I’ve supported that position, but I do not want people to have criminal records for small amounts of marijuana. Right now, it is a criminal violation on the law that could stop you from being a teacher. We have a conditional dismissal program — which allows you to get dismissed — but I don’t want to see anyone with a minor amount of marijuana have a criminal record. So, I don’t support legalization, but I also don’t support someone having a criminal record, I think it’s a mistake.
Aron: It’s been an interesting day down here. I think all three of us experienced a different State of the State message. Jon Bramnick, Ray Lesniak thank you very much.