Press Releases

Vainieri Huttle, Benson & Giblin Bill to Require Emergency Response Plan for Developmental Disabilities' Service Providers Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – To ensure care providers that serve New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities are prepared for public emergencies, legislation that would require the creation of emergency response plans by the state was approved Thursday by the Assembly Human Services Committee.
          The measure (A-4138) would require the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Health, the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families, and the State Office of Emergency Management in the Department of Law and Public Safety, to develop and oversee implementation of a public emergency response plan for licensed providers serving individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. The plan would be created and executed within 30 days of the bill’s enactment.
          The bill is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson and Thomas Giblin.
          “No one was fully prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, including our developmental centers,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It’s critical that we make sure providers have a roadmap of best practices and standards to follow going forward so that we may better protect our most vulnerable.”
          A public emergency response plan under the bill must include, at a minimum:
·       Establish guidelines and best practices for operations, activities and procedures;
·       Identify means, methods and channels so they may obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE);
·       And other resources necessary to operate and provide services during a public emergency;
·       Address various possible emergency scenarios and provide appropriate best practices to handle different types of public emergencies, and; 
·       Be consistent with and incorporate any guidance published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and any other federal agencies involved in the remediation of public emergencies.
          “Providers that serve individuals with developmental disabilities face unique challenges in combating the spread of COVID-19,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Social distancing, wearing face coverings and frequent hand-washing may be more difficult for people with sensory, cognitive or physical impairments. That’s why it’s so important for providers to have a plan in place to guide residents in practicing these standard precautions.”
          “The virus is known to spread in congregate living settings, and sadly, we’ve seen this happen at alarming rates in our developmental centers,” said Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic). “Even more concerning, people with disabilities are at a higher risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19. We must take action to ensure this doesn’t happen again, particularly as we prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.”
          Additionally, under the bill, the emergency response plan would be reviewed on a biennial basis and as soon as possible following the declaration of a public emergency. A copy of the plan would be posted online.
          The measure now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration. 

Assembly Committee Passes Bill to Improve Accessibility of Telehealth and Telemedicine Services

To improve access and affordability of care delivered remotely, Assembly Democrats Joann Downey, Herb Conaway, Eric Houghtaling, Daniel Benson and Robert Karabinchak sponsor legislation to provide expanded coverage for telemedicine and telehealth services. The measure was approved by the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday.

Specifically, the bill (A-4179/4200) would require New Jersey health benefits plans, Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare, and the State Health Benefits Programs and School Employees’ Health Benefits Program to reimburse medical providers for telehealth and telemedicine services at the same rate as for equivalent in-person care in New Jersey.

“If a doctor can provide the same quality of services virtually that they can in person, there’s no reason for insurance plans to discriminate by lowering that doctor’s reimbursement,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “We’ve seen throughout this pandemic that many services can be provided equally well through virtual means, often at lower cost and greater convenience to all parties involved.”

Current law provides that telemedicine and telehealth services may be reimbursed up to the amount at which in-person service is reimbursed.

“Our COVID-responsive expansions of telehealth and telemedicine were significant in spurring the implementation of remote care technologies,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “Ensuring we can take advantage of this proliferation beyond the pandemic will be critical to providing better, well-rounded care.”

The bill would also prohibit health plans from limiting where care provided via telehealth and telemedicine could originate from, and from restricting the use of electronic or technological platforms if services meet the in-person standard of care and comply with certain federal health privacy rules.

“The challenge to successful delivery of virtual care has always been its expense,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “Equalizing reimbursement rates as this bill does allows more equitable costs to be passed on to patients making remote consultation a more cost-effective option.”

“This legislation paves the way for New Jersey to innovate and better address the broad spectrum of healthcare needs that exist,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex).

“Expanding access to different modes of care is critical to raise the quality of care provided in New Jersey,” said Karabinchak (D-Middlesex). “Particularly when it comes to underserved and aging communities, who may be especially challenged by the need to travel for an in-person doctor’s appointment.”

The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.

Benson,Murphy & Vainieri Huttle Bill to Expand Access to NJ Transit Reduced Fare Program for Access Link Riders Passes Assembly

(TRENTON) – With the goal to help more disabled New Jerseyans who use NJ TRANSIT’s Access Link paratransit service take advantage of the agency’s reduced fare program, the full Assembly on Thursday voted 78-0 to approve legislation to expand access to the program.

          The measure (A-2456) would provide that a person eligible for Access Link – a paratransit service through NJ TRANSIT for people with disabilities – would automatically be eligible for NJ TRANSIT’s reduced fare program for seniors and disabled passengers. Access Link riders would be issued a NJ TRANSIT Reduced Fare ID when they are deemed eligible for Access Link.

Bill sponsors, Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex), Carol Murphy (D-Burlington) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) released the following joint statement:

 

Access Link serves our most vulnerable, including seniors and people with disabilities who would otherwise have difficulty using public transportation. Access Link riders usually are also eligible for NJ TRANSIT’s reduced fare program and may not realize it. There’s currently no coordination between these two programs, so riders often miss out. By linking the programs together so that recipients receive their ID card when they enroll in Access Link, we can ensure more people will take advantage of this important program.”

 

The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Zwicker, Benson & Mukherji Measure to Increase Awareness for Vote-By-Mail and Boost Efficiency Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact New Jersey, the July primary election will be conducted predominantly by mail with each registered Democrat and Republican automatically receiving a ballot and all other registered voters receiving an application for a mail-in ballot. If the pandemic continues through the fall, more voters may choose to vote by mail than in past elections.

          To increase public awareness of vote-by-mail and implement safeguards to improve the system’s efficiency, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Raj Mukherji was approved by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

          “It’s critical that we balance the interest of voting by mail with a system that is both fair and efficient,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “Under this legislation, the particular goal is to ensure every person registered and able to vote has the information they need. It works to ensure the voice of our electorate continues to be heard, whether people choose to vote by mail or to head to the polls. As the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, getting VBM right and getting mailed-in ballots properly counted is vital.”

          The measure (A-3591) would require the New Jersey Secretary of State to raise public awareness for vote by mail by preparing informational posters for use at all polling places; include information with mail-in ballots for how the voter can check the status of their ballot; and provide educational materials to county board of elections employees on the standards for acceptance and rejection of mail-in ballots.

          Under current law, county boards of elections are required to retain voted mail-in ballots for two years. This bill would clarify that ballots received 48 hours after the polls close, along with their envelopes, should also be retained for two years. It would also prohibit the rejection of mail-in ballots that have missing or insufficient glue on the outer or inner envelopes.

          “Voting is among our most important rights and responsibilities in this country, and it should be easily accessible to all,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for us to raise awareness for vote-by-mail and make improvements to ensure every vote is fairly counted.”

“Voter apathy and low turnout are grave threats to our democracy, and even more so during a pandemic. Expansion of vote-by-mail and ensuring its fairness and efficiency can help combat those threats,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “By allowing our citizens who may not be able to make it to the ballot box in person, from people with disabilities to workers without paid time off to the elderly or immunocompromised, we must allow their voices to be heard. It is imperative that we increase awareness and ensure fair counting in preparation for a surge in mailed ballots.”

Additionally under the bill, every mail-in ballot that does not have a postmark date but is received by a county board by the United States Postal Service within 48 hours after the polls close should be considered valid and must be canvassed.

The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.

Zwicker,Benson & Sumter Bill to Safeguard Contact Tracing Data Collected for Covid-19 Clears Joint Committee Panel

As contact tracing moves to the forefront of New Jersey’s COVID-19 public health response, residents are understandably concerned about their privacy. To safeguard and restrict use of data collected for contact tracing, the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology and Assembly Community Affairs and Development committee panels advanced legislation on Tuesday.

The bill (A-4170) is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Shavonda Sumter. It stipulates that any public health entity collecting data on someone for contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic can only use it for that specific purpose and must delete the data 30 days after receiving it.

“Contact tracing has long been an important part of controlling the spread of a contagious disease,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “To that end, people need to know what contact tracing is, how it works, and most importantly that the information requested won’t be shared or stored for reasons beyond the immediate goal: saving lives.”

The legislation would require the same level of protection for contact tracing data shared by public health entities with a third party. Misuse or unlawful disclosure of this data by a third party would result in liability for a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

“Establishing that contact tracing data goes nowhere beyond where it needs to go is about transparency and trust,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “If we expect people to share their every move or social interaction with us, they need to know that personal data will be protected and that their privacy is our number one priority too.”

This measure also requires the Commissioner of Health to publish guidance online regarding how collected data may be used and how its security and confidentiality must be ensured. A mechanism where the public can submit comments over a 30-day period must be provided before any guidance can be finalized.

“Building public trust to share sensitive data is essential,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It works hand in hand with allowing the public to be a partner in decision making and in developing clear guidance on the use of people’s data. Information is power.”

Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come into contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, notifying them of their risk and providing support services. It can be done manually with verbal interviews or by using digital data and smartphone technologies such as Bluetooth and GPS.

The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.

Benson Announces Mailing of 2015 Homestead Tax Benefit Applications

 

Assemblyman Daniel Benson is pleased to announce that Mercer and Middlesex County homeowners should be receiving their 2015 Homestead Benefit application packets from the New Jersey Division of Taxation by the end of September. Using the same schedule for printed packets, the Division will also send emails to homeowners who have requested electronic packets. 

"Every little bit helps when it comes to tax relief for residents, so I encourage all eligible homeowners to take advantage of this valuable Homestead Benefit Program," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex).

Benson Announces Expansion of “Safe Care Cam” Program to Protect Seniors, Give Families Peace of Mind

 

Assemblyman Daniel Benson is pleased to announce that the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs is expanding their "Safe Care Cam" program to now allow families to monitor patients in nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, residences for the developmentally disabled, and other care facilities.

The program, which was originally only intended for use in private homes, serves as a valuable community resource to both residents who suspect that a loved one is being abused or to reaffirm peace of mind that a patient is being properly treated.

Benson Introduces Legislation to Help Rescue West Windsor-Plainsboro High School Football Program

Assemblyman Daniel Benson introduced legislation today that will help rescue the West Windsor-Plainsboro School high school football program and others like it that have fallen victim to the nationwide trend of declining enrollment.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, high school football enrollment is down 4.5 percent over the past decade. West Windsor-Plainsboro High School North has felt these effects. With only four seniors, four juniors and 16 sophomores set to play in the upcoming fall football season, the school was forced to drop its varsity program for the upcoming school year and will only play a JV schedule. 

The West Windsor-Plainsboro School District had petitioned the state to allow High School North to merge its varsity program with the district's other school - High School South - but was denied because the schools are part of two different athletic divisions, North being a Group III school and South being a Group IV school.

Benson to Introduce Bill Package to Increase Transparency in Lead Testing After Trenton Water Works Finds Elevated Levels

Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) will introduce two pieces of legislation on Thursday in response to notification of elevated levels of lead found in the water sourced by Trenton Water Works.

Benson noted that letters were sent to all 64,000 Trenton Water Works customers in Trenton, Hamilton, Lawrence, and Ewing last week with recommendations and steps to reduce lead in their drinking water, however, notification was not provided to officials in the affected municipalities.

Benson's first measure would require that any water works system that fails lead testing at any level must notify the municipalities and their school districts so that they may begin emergency management as necessary. More specifically, if the water system has lead levels above the action level, municipalities must be provided with information on what areas of the given system were tested and where elevated lead levels are found.

Schaer, Lampitt & Benson Bill to Encourage Greater Collaboration between Business and Higher Education Communities Now Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic), Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington) and Dan Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) to encourage more collaboration between New Jersey's businesses and institutions of higher education to help spur job creation and boost the economy has been signed into law.

"Fostering collaboration between our higher education institutions and our business community is vital to encourage innovation," said Schaer. "By using existing assets we are learning from what other states have done successfully. We should invest in our future."

"New Jersey is home to top-notch research universities and cutting edge industries. Not having these entities work together is a wasted opportunity," said Lampitt. "This can help produce the type of collaboration that can foster greater innovation and propel our economy forward."

Andrzejczak, Land, Vainieri Huttle, Taliaferro & Benson Bill to Protect Pets Against Inhumane Treatment Now Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak, Bruce Land, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Adam Taliaferro and Dan Benson to help protect pets against inhumane treatment is now law.

"Pet owners have a responsibility to care for their pets. That includes bringing their dogs indoors or providing adequate outdoor shelter during inclement weather," said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). "These animals are not immune from severe cold or hot weather. Keeping a dog outdoors under such conditions is just cruel and is now illegal."

Sumter, Jasey, Benson, Muoio & Downey Bill to Increase Transparency for NJCLASS Student Loan Programs Becomes Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Mila Jasey, Dan Benson, Elizabeth Maher Muoio and Joann Downey to combat student loan debt in New Jersey was signed into law on Monday.

"The only concern a college student should have after graduating is choosing which job will lead them closer to their goals," said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic).

"It has become the norm for families and students to take on an overwhelming amount of debt to pursue educational goals. We must increase transparency under NJCLASS Loan Programs, better educate families on loan repayment options and requirements as well as help families understand how much they can realistically handle in student loans."

Taliaferro, Eustace, Benson & Mazzeo Legislation Banning ‘Flakka’ Possession Signed into Law

Legislation Assembly Democrats Adam Taliaferro, Tim Eustace, Daniel Benson and Vince Mazzeo sponsored to help curb the use of a street drug often associated with violent and self-destructive behavior was signed into law on Monday.

The law (A-2176) now criminalizes the possession, distribution, manufacture and sale of the drug alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP), an inexpensive synthetic drug commonly referred to as "flakka" or "flocka." The measure adds the drug to an existing list of similar prohibited controlled substances that includes the family of synthetic cathinones known as "bath salts."

"Flakka has been linked to a number of psychotic symptoms and violent attacks, threatening the safety of communities across the nation," said Taliaferro (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). "With this law, New Jersey will be proactive about preventing this dangerous drug from taking over in our state." 

Muoio, Giblin, Mazzeo, Gusciora & Benson Bill Ensuring Furloughed State Workers Get Paid Signed into Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Thomas Giblin, Vince Mazzeo, Reed Gusciora and Daniel Benson to ensure that state workers who were involuntarily furloughed during the state government shutdown receive the wages or salary they were owed during that period has been signed into law.

Assembly OKs Vainieri Huttle, Eustace, Tucker, McKnight & Benson Measure Barring Christie from Transferring Addiction & Mental Health Services

By a vote of 42-25, the General Assembly on Monday approved a measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Cleopatra Tucker, Angela McKnight and Daniel Benson to block Gov. Christie's plan to transfer the functions of the state's mental health and addiction services from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health.

Last week, the Assembly Human Services Committee, chaired by Vainieri Huttle, held a joint hearing on the plan with the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee at which time representatives from over 20 organizations and stakeholders expressed concerns regarding the content, potential effects, and timing of the planned reorganization.

Muoio, Giblin, Mazzeo, Gusciora & Benson Bill to Ensure Involuntarily Furloughed State Workers are Paid for Shutdown Heads to Governor’s Desk

The full Assembly on Monday unanimously granted final legislative approval to a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Thomas Giblin, Vince Mazzeo, Reed Gusciora and Daniel Benson to ensure that state workers who were involuntarily furloughed when Gov. Christie shut down state government receive the wages or salary they were owed during that period.

Benson, Muoio & Gusciora Bill Opposing Reorganization of NJ Office of Information Technology Approved by Assembly

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Dan Benson, Elizabeth Muoio and Reed Gusciora opposing the governor's decision to reorganize the New Jersey Office of Information Technology was approved Monday by the General Assembly.

"This reorganization makes no sense, and will lead to increased operational inefficiencies and hinder important OIT functions such as identifying waste and fraud," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "The state should instead focus on enhancing OIT capabilities and building upon their record of success."

"Restructuring the OIT has the potential to waste taxpayer dollars by delaying the development and implementation of work product and infrastructure improvements," said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). "The possible detrimental effects on the state's technical infrastructure are concerning to us, and should be concerning to the governor."

Eustace, Karabinchak, McKeon, Vainieri Huttle & Benson Bill to Create Water Quality Accountability Act Now Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Timothy Eustace, Robert Karabinchak, John McKeon, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Daniel Benson to establish a proactive cybersecurity policy for all water purveyors in order to enhance the reliability and safety of the state's drinking water systems was signed into law on Friday.

In March 2016, the BPU adopted cybersecurity requirements applicable to the electric, natural gas, water, and wastewater utilities that it regulates. The new law will apply those requirements to all water purveyors. 

"We have seen many cybersecurity threats in recent years," said Eustace (D-Bergen, Passaic). "Whether it is attacking our personal information online or threatening critical resources, the state must take steps to protect residents from cybersecurity breaches. This law will codify present cybersecurity requirements established by the BPU and strengthen protections of our water resources by extending these requirements to all water suppliers."

Lampitt, Vainieri Huttle, Benson & Wimberly Bill to Uphold Right of Service Dog Access for People with Disabilities Now Law

Legislation Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to uphold the right of people with disabilities to have equal access to public facilities was recently signed into law.

The new law, which received unanimous approval by the full Assembly in January, was first proposed by the sponsors after 16-year-old Cherry Hill resident Ben Shore raised concerns about a policy in his school district outlining preconditions to be met in order for a student to be accompanied by a service animal,like his service dog Charlie.

The law (formerly A-4081), known as "Charlie's Law," establishes civil penalties for those who deny individuals with disabilities accompanied by service or guide dogs access to any public facility.

Mazzeo, Lagana, Vainieri Huttle, & Benson Bill to Educate Parents of Prescription Opioid Use Now Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vincent Mazzeo, Joseph Lagana, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Daniel Benson creating a state-led effort to educate parents of student-athletes and cheerleaders on the use and misuse of prescription opioids is now law.
"The law ensures that young people and their parents are educated as early as possible about the dangers of opioid abuse and addiction," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "It is critical to provide this information to students who participate in athletics to make certain that, in the event they are prescribed an opioid for an injury, they will be fully knowledgeable of the risks of misuse."

Assembly Democratic Bill Establishing State Goal to Reduce Food Waste in NJ Now Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Annette Quijano, Tim Eustace, James Kennedy, Dan Benson, Elizabeth Muoio, Andrew Zwicker and Raj Mukherji to establish a statewide food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030 has been signed into law.

"Food waste is a major issue nationally and globally," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Unwanted and discarded food squanders water, land, energy, labor and capital resources. When food waste is dumped in a landfill, it rots and creates methane, a very hazardous greenhouse gas. We should begin to look at alternatives to ridding surplus food, especially if it is still unspoiled, instead of just tossing it in a landfill." 

Assembly Democratic Bill Package to Provide Free Mental Health Services, Extend Certain Benefits to Gold Star Families Now Law

A legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Lou Greenwald, Gordon Johnson, Bruce R. Land, Bob Andrzejczak, Vince Mazzeo, Eric Houghtaling, Dan Benson, Patricia Jones, Raj Mukherji and Joseph Danielsen to provide mental health services and other resources to Gold Star families has been signed into law.

The term "Gold Star" describes a family member who has lost a loved one in military service. A Gold Star Family member is defined to mean a spouse, domestic partner, partner in a civil union, parent, brother, sister, child, legal guardian, or other legal custodian.

"Gold Star families have given the greatest sacrifice they can for our freedoms, and we need to do our part to support them," said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). "This will provide needed support to navigate the challenges and difficulties they face in the wake of losing a loved one."

Sumter, Jasey, Muoio, Lagana, Downey & Benson HESAA Transparency Measure Now Law

Legislation Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Mila Jasey, Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Joseph Lagana, Joann Downey and Daniel Benson sponsored to combat student loan debt in New Jersey is now law.

"The only concern a college student should have after graduating is choosing which job will lead them closer to their goals," said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). "It has become the norm for families and students to take on an overwhelming amount of debt to pursue educational goals. This new law will increase transparency under NJCLASS loan programs, better educate families on loan repayment options and requirements and help families understand how much they can realistically handle in student loans." 

"Furthering your education is necessary to advance a career," Jasey (D-Essex/Morris), chair of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. "It should never be a burden to do so, and it should be encouraged without fear of debt. This is a step toward helping families struggling to send their children to college without saddling them with cumbersome loan debt."

Schaer, Jasey, Benson & Wimberly College Affordability & Preparedness Bill Now Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Mila Jasey. Daniel R. Benson and Benjie Wimberly aimed at helping New Jersey residents better navigate the college process has been signed into law.

"Too many students today are unprepared entering into a higher education system that leads them to incur crushing student loan debt," said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). "We need to provide a path forward for New Jersey students by allowing them access to college curricula in high school, opening higher education possibilities and exposing them to the academic rigor ahead, and then providing them an option for a debt-free future."

DeAngelo, Giblin, Singleton, Holley & Benson Bill to Ask Voters to Support Creation & Expansion of Public Libraries Now Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Thomas Giblin, Troy Singleton, Jamel Holley and Dan Benson to ask voters to provide grants for the construction, expansion and equipping of public libraries in New Jersey has been signed into law.

"Some might question the relevance of libraries when technology is so prevalent, but for one, not everyone has access to technology, and secondly, libraries are more than just a place to get books," said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "They are gathering places. They are places where people can get college prep and career assistance. They are places where people without access to computers or an internet connection can have free access to both. Given the value of libraries and what they provide our communities, it would be irresponsible not to invest in their viability."

Benson, Mukherji, Muoio, Holley, Sumter, Downey, Lampitt, Oliver, Danielsen & Wimberly Bill to Protect NJ Public Safety Officers Now Law

Legislation Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson, Raj Mukherji, Elizabeth Muoio, Jamel Holley, Shavonda Sumter, Joann Downey, Pamela Lampitt, Sheila Oliver, Joe Danielsen and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to support workers who are attacked while supervising inmates or detainees is now law.

Under previous law, a corrections officer or juvenile detention officer who was seriously injured after a prison inmate attack and could not work would not receive any salary while waiting for workers' compensation to take effect, which could take several months.

A recent rise in attacks on corrections officers highlighted the need to address this gap in state statute, the sponsors noted.

Assembly Democratic Bill Package Targeting Homelessness in New Jersey Clears Assembly

The full Assembly on Thursday approved an expansive six-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson, Elizabeth Maher Muoio, Raj Mukherji, Troy Singleton, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Patricia Egan Jones designed to reduce homelessness and help New Jersey residents get back on their feet.

"The descent into homelessness can happen rapidly for a number of reasons, but one thing we've learned is that the climb out can be arduous to near-impossible without a helping hand," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "We've spent nearly the last six months examining the issue to find ways that we can maximize state resources so that they have a real and transformative impact on the lives of homeless residents in our state. Cumulatively, these bills tackle the most pervasive factors that lead to or perpetuate homelessness."

Andrzejczak, Land, Benson, Holley & Mukherji Measure to Strengthen Animal Cruelty Laws Clears Assembly

Legislation Assembly Democrats Bob Andrzejczak, Bruce Land, Daniel R. Benson, Jamel Holley and Raj Mukherji sponsored to require animal abusers to pay the cost for caring for the animals they harmed gained Assembly approval on Thursday.
The bill (A-772) would provide for the cost of care for animals involved in animal cruelty violations and establish a procedure for the alleged violator to pay for the care. 
"The abusive treatment of animals is plain cowardice," said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/ Atlantic/Cumberland). "Individuals who commit such acts should and will be held accountable for their actions. It's time to strengthen New Jersey statutes and make perpetrators pay for their unspeakable mistreatment of animals."

Taliaferro, Eustace, Benson & Mazzeo Legislation to Ban 'Flakka' Possession Clears Legislature, Heads to Gov

 Legislation Assembly Democrats Adam Taliaferro, Tim Eustace, Daniel Benson and Vince Mazzeo sponsored to help curb the use of a street drug often associated with violent and self-destructive behavior was approved by the full Senate, 39-0, on Monday. 

The bill (A-2176) would criminalize the possession, distribution, manufacture and sale of the drug alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone (alpha-PVP), an inexpensive synthetic drug commonly referred to as "flakka" or "flocka." The measure adds the drug to an existing list of similar prohibited controlled substances that includes the family of synthetic cathinones known as "bath salts."

"Flakka has been linked to a number of psychotic symptoms and violent attacks, threatening the safety of communities across the nation," said Taliaferro (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). "With this legislation, New Jersey will be proactive about preventing this dangerous drug from taking over in our state." 

Under the bill, possessing, distributing, manufacturing or selling one ounce or more of the drug would be a crime of the second degree. A crime of the second degree is punishable by imprisonment for a term of five to 10 years, a fine of up to $150,000 or both. Possessing, distributing, manufacturing or selling less than one ounce would be a crime of the third degree, punishable by imprisonment for a term of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000 or both.

Schaer, Lampitt & Benson Bill to Encourage Greater Collaboration between Business and Higher Education Communities Clears Assembly Panel

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic), Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington) and Dan Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) to encourage more collaboration between New Jersey's businesses and institutions of higher education to help spur job creation and boost the economy was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

"Fostering collaboration between our higher education institutions and our business community is vital to encourage innovation," said Schaer. "By using existing assets we are learning from what other states have done successfully. We should invest in our future."

"New Jersey is home to top-notch research universities and cutting edge industries. Not having these entities work together is a wasted opportunity," said Lampitt. "This can help produce the type of collaboration that can foster greater innovation and propel our economy forward."

"New Jersey loses many of its college-bound students to other states, denying the state and its workforce of valuable brainpower," said Benson. "If we create better career development opportunities for students through these partnerships, they will be more likely to stay in New Jersey."