Home>Feature>Nine things you should know about from today’s legislative session

The Assembly Chambers at Gov. Phil Murphy's fiscal year 2023 budget address delivered on March 8, 2022. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe).

Nine things you should know about from today’s legislative session

By Joey Fox, May 26 2022 6:30 pm

Both houses of the New Jersey legislature were in session today, so if you were in the Trenton area and felt a chill in the air, that’s why. Dozens of bills were passed, several Republican attempts to bring up their own proposals were shot down, and in a major surprise, a Democratic-led elections bill failed to get the necessary votes for passage in the Senate.

Here’s everything you need to know about what happened today at the statehouse.

Democrats didn’t precanvass their caucus votes

A bill allowing counties to count early and absentee votes before Election Day shockingly failed 20-16 on the Senate floor, after Republicans – joined by frequent dissident State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) – made a ruckus over the possibility of results leaking early and compromising elections.

State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Delran), the bill’s sponsor, pointed out that no such thing happened in 2020, when many votes were counted early. But three Democratic senators were missing from Trenton today, and their absence meant that Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) couldn’t get the critical 21st vote.

Gill bill’s still nil

Gill also attempted to force a Senate vote on a resolution sponsored by herself and State Sen. Joe Pennacchio (R-Montville) creating a subpoena-powered committee to investigate Covid-related nursing home deaths.

“I ask you not to support the motion to table,” Gill implored her fellow legislators. “Let this go to second reading. Let us discuss it in public. And let us have the transparency and accountability that every one of those 9,000 bodies who are dead, and the people who are mourning for them, demand.”

The motion was successfully tabled.

Eulner learns the ropes

Assemblywoman Kim Eulner (R-Shrewsbury) had a series of standoffs with Assembly leadership after she attempted to put on the floor a bill requiring the ​​Police Training Commission to train officers on school emergency responses, including school shooting events like the one that tragically struck Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday.

“I can’t imagine the pain these people are going through, having to bury their children,” Eulner said on the Assembly floor. “It’s a sin if we don’t pass this today.”

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) shut Eulner down twice for procedural issues, leaving the freshman assemblywoman visibly furious; the bill never did make it to the floor. But Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees), recognizing Eulner’s status as a freshman legislator lacking experience with the statehouse’s circuitous rules, struck a more sympathetic tone.

“I have no idea what you’re presenting,” Greenwald said. “I appreciate what you’re doing, I appreciate your passion. I’d like to have a conversation with you before you ask every member of this house to have a debate on something that we’ve never seen.”

Republicans shut down left and right

It wasn’t just Eulner and Gill who got stopped; State Sen. Ed Durr (R-Logan), Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn (R-Holmdel), and several other Republicans all had proposals or hostile amendments get blocked by their chambers’ Democratic leaders.

Today’s various failed attempts were part of an increasingly visible effort by Republican legislators, especially in the Assembly, to push back against Democratic hegemony in the statehouse. With every committee led by a Democrat and most passed bills – even uncontroversial ones – spearheaded by Democratic legislators, Republicans have had to find alternate ways to get their proposals some airtime.

McKeon won’t be put in a box

Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange)’s bill to ban consumer items from being shipped in overlarge boxes passed the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee last week, and he said today that he’ll be open to addressing the myriad issues raised by business groups and Republican legislators about the bill’s effects. In fact, McKeon said that one of the main reasons the bill was posted to committee at all was to prompt that very discussion.

“If we just filed the bill and got a press release and then didn’t think about it again, there’d be no interaction that you need to get to a place where everybody can reasonably compromise,” he said. “That’s the reason why bringing it to committee, it kind of wakes up everybody that’s impacted, and those kinds of discussions are going on right now.”

Don’t like the new bribery bill? Pay your legislator to vote no

After Gov. Phil Murphy conditionally vetoed a bill earlier this month to extend state bribery laws to political candidates who aren’t current officeholders, the Assembly passed a new version of the bill that makes the changes Murphy wanted: extending the effects of the bill further, to cover all individuals involved in the interaction.

“I didn’t think it was necessary, but [Murphy] has the right to make that decision, and I’d rather see the bill passed with his proposed amendments than not have it adopted into law,” said Assemblyman Greg McGuckin (R-Toms River), the longtime sponsor of the bill.

McGuckin’s Senate counterpart, State Sen. Joe Cryan (D-Union), similarly said last week that he didn’t see why the amendments were needed. But Cryan’s objections may run deeper than McGuckin’s, since the amended bill did not come for a vote in the Senate today.

SNAP, crackle, pop

The Assembly voted to approve a package of bills aimed at improving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, by streamlining the application process and adding additional benefits for seniors and those with disabilities, among other reforms. The bills were passed on bipartisan votes, but in many cases a small number of conservative Republicans voted no.

Victoria victorious

After a year as acting Commissioner of Corrections, Victoria Kuhn can finally say she’s a Senate-confirmed member of the Murphy administration, which means … she’ll keep doing her job in exactly the same way as she’s done for nearly a year. Eleven Superior Court nominees were also advanced, chipping away at the state’s large judicial vacancy problem.

You can’t sit with us

It may be egocentric to write the news about oneself, but New Jersey’s small cohort of statehouse reporters were briefly shut out from the statehouse floor after a state trooper claimed press were restricted to the gallery. That’s never been the case before, and the stated reasoning of “because I said so” was not especially convincing; the vague standoff ended after the Assembly majority office confirmed that there had simply been some miscommunication, and press were allowed on the floor after all.

Miscommunications are understandable, but the incident was reminiscent in some ways of the Republican vaccine revolt last December, during which state troopers seemed bewildered by who could be where and whom they had the power to stop. The statehouse could perhaps use a clearer set of rules, or at least a State Police contingent more aware of what, exactly, the rules are.

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