In response to recent high-profile attacks on politicians and their families, both houses of the New Jersey Legislature sent a bill to the governor’s desk yesterday removing the requirement that local government officials list their home addresses on financial disclosure statements. A similar measure for state legislators was approved in February.
But a third, much more far-reaching bill to prohibit disclosing the addresses of elected officials and candidates on nearly all public records seems to be stalled, having made no progress in the legislature since December of last year. According to Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees), the bill’s prime sponsor, that’s because there are still some serious complications to resolve.
“Technologically, we are struggling with some of the local clerks on how they would be able to fulfill the requirement of protecting addresses,” Greenwald said. “Just trying to get the technology to match up with the intent of the law is an issue.”
The bill began moving through the legislature last year, unanimously clearing committees in both chambers. But it foundered soon afterwards due to worries about the sheer amount of work it would cause; New Jersey is home to thousands of politicians, and each of them might have their addresses publicly listed on holiday cards, property tax forms, or any number of other locations.
Asked whether he thinks the bill has a chance of making it through the legislature this session, Greenwald was unsure.
“I don’t know. We have so many other deeper priorities, I think,” he said. “The reality is, we had a rash of horrific violent crimes against elected officials and judges, and I suspect it will come up again, because I don’t think that’s going to go away.”
If the bill ever does make it to the floor, it may run into serious Republican opposition. Even the significantly less dramatic financial disclosure bill – which was sponsored by Assembly Minority Leader John DiMaio (R-Hackettstown) – drew 14 Republican no votes and three abstentions, with Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris Plains) laying out his strong objections.
“It’s a real invitation to corruption and manipulating the rules,” Webber said on the Assembly floor. “When you eliminate this level of transparency, I think you undermine trust in the system.”
But, of course, if Democrats are unified behind a bill, it can pass the Democratic-controlled legislature without any Republican support. The question will be whether they can construct a bill that’s actually workable for those who would be tasked with enforcing it.