What was, and wasn’t, on the docket for the final legislative session of 2018?

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Big, bipartisan changes are coming to NJ Transit. Lawmakers in both chambers approved bills to add one rail and one bus commuter to the agency’s 13-member board, hold evening hearings and require the agency to submit two-year budgets among several other changes.

“It was really an agency in crisis, so we started to build and have come up with a great transparency and accountability piece of legislation in a bipartisan way that’s going to put NJ Transit on the right track,” said Assemblyman John McKeon.

“Actually having people who ride the rails everyday and understand the problems that people are experiencing getting to and from work and to and from their families, and we need to make sure that we can have some changes that will happen in real time, have the right legislative oversight and also identify where the management problems continue to be,” said Sen. Tom Kean, Jr.

The Assembly approved several bills targeting hunger in New Jersey — discouraging food waste, preserving farmland and giving incentives such as alcohol licenses to grocers who would build stores in food deserts. Assemblyman Ryan Peters opposed the bill.

“You’re saying, we don’t have access to fresh fruits and vegetables so let’s bring alcohol here in order to do that. Take that aside, studies will show you that even though you’re providing fresh fruits and vegetables, people still don’t have the funds to come in and purchase them,” said Peters.

Both Democrats and Republicans sponsored a bill to restore a $20 million subsidy to the horse racing industry over five years to increase purses and undo what the former governor took away. Sen. Vin Gopal said the impact of taking away that subsidy was extraordinarily negative.

“We saw it as the purses declined and we saw other states do better,” said Sen. Vin Gopal.

The Senate also approved a bill to revise and broaden New Jersey’s family leave law, and a bill to form a commission to study wrongful convictions and recommend changes.

The Assembly followed the Senate’s March vote on a bill to have the state attorney general, instead of county prosecutors, investigate and prosecute cases of on-duty fatal police encounters.

But in this last voting session of 2018, lawmakers did not get to vote on the adult legalization of marijuana or the $15 minimum wage — largely because it seems Democrats can’t agree on specifics.