The Senate Environment and Energy Committee advanced the Liberty State Park Protection Act without recommendation today, using a rarely-seen maneuver to note their discomfort with the bill while nevertheless forwarding it to the Budget and Appropriations Committee.
The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) and State Sen. Brian Stack (D-Union City), is aimed at preserving Jersey City’s Liberty State Park and protecting it against privatization. It was first introduced in February 2020, but languished for nearly two years before being unexpectedly brought onto the docket less than 12 hours before the start of today’s meeting.
State Sen. and committee chair Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) said today that Weinberg, who is retiring at the end of this term, had hoped the bill would be one of her final defining accomplishments. But Smith also noted that a number of other officials – including Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), one of the bill’s cosponsors in the Assembly, and various Hudson County leaders – have expressed concerns with the bill as currently written.
“It sounds to me like it’s not baked,” Smith said of the bill. “It’s got some issues that I think Senator Stack and Senator Weinberg and Assemblyman Mukherji and all these officials from Hudson County have to work out.”
Because of the apparent issues with the bill, Smith proposed that the bill be released without recommendation, “so that all of the parties can get their act together, because clearly there are issues.”
Smith, State Sen. Kip Bateman (R-Branchburg), and State Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Plainsboro) voted to advance the bill, State Sen. Kristin Corrado (R-Totowa) voted no, and former Gov. Richard Codey (D-Roseland) abstained.
“Ensuring that the park continues to remain as a recreational area free for everyone to enjoy is crucial,” Stack said in a statement released after the bill’s semi-successful trip through the committee. “It is imperative that New Jersey residents and tourists are able to enjoy it for years to come.”
While the legislation may only be focused on one state park, it managed to have implications in this year’s gubernatorial race, when the Jersey Journal decided not to endorse Gov. Phil Murphy because Murphy hadn’t supported the bill.
“Hudson County voters should skip the top of the ballot this election and send a loud, clear message to Gov. Phil Murphy that his silence on the proposed Liberty State Park Protection Act is unacceptable,” the paper wrote.
This story was updated at 4:58 p.m. with a statement from State Sen. Brian Stack.