Legislators vote on hodgepodge of bills in lame duck session

BY Michael Aron, Chief Political Correspondent |

Every bill has a story behind it. The large residential fire in Edgewater three years ago that destroyed an apartment complex gave rise to two fire safety bills.

One requires more sprinklers and firewalls in buildings made of lightweight materials. The other requires a fire safety expert on a construction site during off-hours. That passed in the Assembly.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto sponsored the bills. In private life he is a construction code official in several towns near Edgewater.

“In code, sometimes unfortunately it takes reactive instead of sometimes being proactive. We’ve been looking to see how we can still use lightweight construction, but actually make it a safer environment and I think this is a bill that accomplishes both,” he said.

Another bill that passed the Assembly unanimously deals with breastfeeding. It mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace for breastfeeding mothers.

“Too many times people come to work and there’s not a private place to breastfeed or to pump milk for their baby. And this gives the opportunity and freedom for someone to feel comfortable in a work environment,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle.

The Assembly voted on a hodgepodge of bills today. So did the Senate after getting a late start around 4 p.m. It’s the lame duck session. A new legislature will be sworn in Jan. 9.

Republican Assembly leader Jon Bramnick said today’s lineup of bills was rather timid.

“Today, I don’t see a lot of bills that address the most important problem in the state and that is high taxes and affordability. I get the sense that this lame duck with a new speaker and a new governor, you’re not seeing those, in my judgement, those really important bills. I don’t see anything of significance that would affect affordability in the state,” Bramnick said.

A bill posted in the Senate would dedicate 1 percent of the tobacco products tax to smoking cessation efforts. It has already passed in the Assembly.

“We got this massive settlement years ago that was meant to go to smoking cessation programs and it was used to plug holes in the budget. We never got to smoking cessation programs. This time we have a chance to do something like that. It’s vitally important that we discourage young people and anybody in general from smoking,” said Assemblyman Tim Eustace.

A bill in the Assembly would make it a crime to commit an act of domestic violence in front of a child.

Assemblyman Troy Singleton said, “What we’re seeing is the large level of collateral damage that affects children, so we want to have a heightened penalty when it’s done in the presence of children because the ancillary affects of what that does to children is damaging over the years. We want to show an aggressive tone toward that.”

Today’s bills were almost entirely noncontroversial.

Another in the Assembly would allow prescriptions for birth control to be written to cover 12 months instead of the current three month limit.

“This would give them one year so there’s no gap in coverage, there’s no gap in losing any month or week in birth control. It’s very important to have consistency and this is for people that, quite frankly, if you have a year’s supply it’s more efficient and less expensive,” Huttle said.

Preito has two more sessions as speaker. He’ll be replaced by Assemblyman Craig Coughlin of Woodbridge next month. Bramnick says the change will have negligible impact.

“I don’t it makes much difference at all. I think they’re both gentlemen. I think they’re both reasonable people. I’m proud to work with them. I may disagree with them on policy, but personally I like both of them and I think they’re gentlemen,” he said.

The Senate is also voting on a resolution expressing displeasure with the Republican tax reform bill working its way through Congress. That’s a Democratic-sponsored resolution. It’ll be interesting to see how the Republicans in New Jersey vote on it.