Legislation Assembly Democrats Marlene Caride, Angelica Jimenez, Raj Mukherji, Jamel Holley, Daniel R. Benson and Angela McKnight sponsored to improve the safety of students in wheelchairs who are transported on school buses cleared the legislature on Monday with a final legislative approval in the Senate, 38-0.
The bill (A-1257) would require school bus drivers to secure students who use a wheelchair with a four-point securement system, which shall be made available on all school buses used to transport students who use a wheelchair. A four-point securement system is defined by the bill as a complete four-point system that includes four wheelchair restraints to secure a wheelchair to the vehicle floor; a lap and shoulder belt that integrates to the rear wheelchair restraints; and floor anchorages installed in the vehicle floor.
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vince Mazzeo, Daniel Benson, Paul Moriarty and Joe Danielsen to honor the parents and guardians of fallen members of the armed forces was approved Monday by the full Assembly, 70-0. It can now go to the Governor for further consideration.
The bill (A-458), to be known as the "County Identification Cards for Gold Star Parents Act," would permit county clerks or registers of deeds and mortgages to create a Gold Star Parent identification card. The card would serve to identify the holder as the parent or guardian of a member of the armed forces who died while on active duty and prove eligibility to receive any applicable discounts or other courtesies extended to military families.
"For those mothers and fathers who had to bury a child who volunteered to serve America out of love of country, having a tangible recognition of that sacrifice is invaluable," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "While the associated discounts and privileges will benefit families financially, this legislation, more importantly, is a way to acknowledge just how much the parents of members of our military also give to our country."
Legislation Assembly Democrats Joann Downey, Eric Houghtaling, Jamel Holley and Daniel Benson sponsored to more effectively deliver services to veterans in New Jersey received final legislative approval from the Senate on Monday and now heads to the governor's desk.
The bill (A-4171), which was approved by the Assembly last year, would establish the New Jersey Commission on Veterans' Benefits in the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. The 13-member commission would develop, maintain and annually update a five-year statewide veterans' benefits strategic plan that includes goals and measurable outcomes to ensure that all state departments and agencies are effectively delivering comprehensive services and support for veterans and their families.
"Many veterans are aware of how they can benefit from resources the federal government offers, but they're sometimes uncertain about what they and their families may qualify for at the state level," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "A commission dedicated to making sure veterans have access to the programs and benefits they're eligible for and deserve will help New Jersey honor its obligation to those who have served this nation."
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Tim Eustace, Daniel Benson, Andrew Zwicker, and Benjie Wimberly to allow "virtual" net metering for customers connected to hydropower facilities was approved by the full Assembly on Monday.
Virtual net metering (VNM) is a bill crediting system. A customer receives credits on their electric bill for excess energy drawn from a hydropower facility.
"For residents who have invested in a renewable energy source for their homes, this legislation would reduce their utility bill by giving them credit for the excess energy produced," said Eustace (D- Bergen, Passaic). "Virtual net metering allows the customers to keep tabs on how much energy they actually use through alternative energy sources. Because of their investment, residents should see the savings on their utility bills from month to month."
Under the bill (A-2204), a small scale Hydro power facility put into service after the effective date with the capacity of 3 MW or less is eligible for net metering. The bill authorizes a facility to deliver or sell power to up to 10 end-use customers, who are located within 10 miles of the facility and net-metered within the service territory of a single electric public utility, and designate the end-use customers to be credited by the electric power supplier or basic generation service provider with the excess generations of the facility.
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Craig Coughlin, Joann Downey, Raj Mukherji, Angela McKnight, Troy Singleton and Daniel R. Benson granting seniors and disabled residents more time to apply for their property tax rebates cleared the legislature with final approval by the full Assembly, 70-0. The bill will now go to the Governor for further consideration.
"For those living on a fixed income, like seniors and certain disabled residents, every little bit helps," said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). "The senior freeze program can provide a substantial boost to those individuals so we'd like to make sure they have as much time as possible to apply and take advantage of it."
"Property tax rebates are often a much-needed income boost that can make the difference between whether someone can afford their prescriptions or pay their utility bill," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "By extending the deadline, hopefully we can ensure that more seniors and disabled residents have time to apply for what is rightfully owed to them."
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrat Daniel Benson and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to revise and strengthen New Jersey law on animal cruelty amid SPCA concerns was approved by the Assembly on Monday, giving it final legislative approval. The bill now goes to the governor. The bill (A-5231) was introduced in response to a report released by the State Commission of Investigation on organizational mismanagement at the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "New Jersey cannot continue to rely on an outdated law and state level organization that has failed to protect animals and their owners from harm," said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). "This bill will ensure that protection of animals is harmonized with our local and county law enforcement and that animal cruelty is investigated and prosecuted with accountability and transparency." "Many counties currently have coordinated law enforcement as well as the local sheriff's department to ensure every animal cruelty complaint is investigated and handled in a timely manner as they should be addressed," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This legislation would allow for a more coordinated police response to animal cruelty complaints in communities."
Legislation Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Elizabeth Muoio, Raj Mukherji, Nicholas Chiaravalloti and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to provide emergency housing assistance for victims of domestic violence was signed into law on Monday.
"There have been many times when victims of domestic violence have been denied emergency assistance because they voluntarily left a job where their abuser could find them or failed to plan for substitute housing - situations that are typically out of their control, especially for many who have limited means," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "Our number one priority should be ensuring their safety and getting them back on their feet, and that's what this law will do."
The new law (A-4406) will provide emergency assistance, typically in the form of rental assistance, to individuals or families who are homeless or in a temporary living arrangement due to imminent or demonstrated domestic violence that imperils their health and safety.
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John S. Wisniewski, Craig Coughlin, Joseph Danielsen, Daniel Benson and Andrew Zwicker to provide incentives for companies exploring wind energy development cleared the full Assembly, 54-15-1, on Monday.
"Rising electricity costs and environmental concerns urge us to seek new ways to create, conserve and protect our energy resources," said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). "Wind farms and the production of clean, renewable energy will be keys to creating the sustainable future New Jersey greatly deserves."
"Encouraging the development and expansion of wind energy initiatives is good business for the state," said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). "Attracting wind energy facilities, in the long run, will create jobs, increase our sustainability, and position our state as one of the few pioneers developing this new energy frontier."
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Craig Coughlin, Raj Mukherji, Daniel Benson, Joann Downey and Eric Houghtaling to ensure pharmacy benefits managers are vetted by New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance before operating in the state was approved Monday by the Assembly, giving it final legislative approval. The bill now goes to the governor. The bill (A-4676), entitled the "Prescription Drug Patient Protection Act," requires pharmacy benefits managers to obtain, in accordance with the bill's provisions, a certificate of authority form the Commissioner of Banking and Insurance in order to operate in this state. A pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) is a third-party administrator of prescription-drug programs for end payers, such as private insurers, and Medicare Part D plans. The sponsors of the bill note a number of complaints about PBMS driving up costs and the purpose of this bill is to provide transparency, accountability and potentially lower costs to consumers. "The state must ensure patient protection when dealing with third-party pharmacy benefit managers," said Coughlin (D- Middlesex). "With the rise in the cost of healthcare and the price of prescriptions, we must do all that we can to ensure residents are not being taken advantage of by anyone raising the prices of the prescriptions they need unnecessarily." "New Jersey law protects access to prescription drugs by seniors and other patients with its any willing provider laws, but recently history reveals that third-party PBMs on behalf of insurance companies have sought to circumvent those consumer protections," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "This legislation ensures that any pharmacy benefits manager operating in our state is approved to do so and understands the regulations applicable to their dealings."
Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Annette Quijano, Daniel R. Benson, Angela McKnight and Shavonda Sumter that incorporates the latest scientific approach to substance use disorders in order to ensure that individuals can access the drug treatment they need has been signed into law.
Specifically, the new legislation (A-4707) prohibits residential substance use disorder treatment facilities and aftercare facilities, including sober living homes and halfway houses, from denying admission to a person because they are currently receiving medication assisted treatment for a substance use disorder, provided the treatment is administered by a licensed treatment provider.
"Some treatment and aftercare programs operate with a philosophy that an addiction to one substance should not be replaced with an addiction to another, and therefore they object to medication assisted treatment, instead emphasizing counseling and peer support," said Quijano (D-Union). "This philosophy, while earnest and well-meaning, has the unfortunate result of barring individuals receiving medically supervised medication assisted treatment from other recovery-related treatment services. This legislation is designed to remove scientifically outdated barriers to residential treatment, aftercare, and housing options for individuals in recovery."