Home>Highlight>Senate Panel advances cleanup bill, setting up full votes on Monday

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for the New Jersey Globe)

Senate Panel advances cleanup bill, setting up full votes on Monday

Rice votes no over lack of provisions on qualified immunity

By Nikita Biryukov, February 19 2021 3:46 pm

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced the latest marijuana cleanup bill Tuesday in a six to two vote with one abstention.

State Sen. Ron Rice (D-Newark), a legalization who chairs the Legislative Black Caucus, voted no over a provision removing qualified immunity for police officers who illegally search minors that is not present in the bill.

“For some reason someone in leadership did not want it, and I still need to know why they don’t want it, but we need to have a clause in there, in this bill, that says qualified immunity does not apply to this particular bill.”

Earlier Friday, Senate President Steve Sweeney told the New Jersey Globe qualified immunity was “a much larger discussion they’re trying to insert into this bill.”

The amended cleanup bill does lower the bar to criminally charge police officers who deprive underage users of civil rights by conducting an illegal search related to marijuana violations, but qualified immunity didn’t make the cut.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden), the Senate Judiciary chair who has led the push toward legalization, declined to take up Rice’s proposal but invited the senator to introduce it as a hostile amendment during the Senate’s voting session on Monday.

Such a move will earn support from at least one other member of the Legislative Black Caucus.

“I want to state publicly that if Sen. Rice intends to bring this motion on the floor on Monday, then he will have my support on Monday to at least have all of our colleagues, all 40 of our colleagues, make a decision on that amendment,” State Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Delran) said. “I think the weight and magnitude of this issue, and the senator’s been passionate about it, is one that should be heard and debated.”

State Sen. Michael Doherty (R-Washington) voted no. State Sen. Kip Bateman (R-Branchburg) abstained, citing concerns from law enforcement officials.

Democratic leaders in the Senate hope a slew of other amendments first reported by the New Jersey Globe Friday will be sufficient to win enough support in the chamber to advance the cleanup bill.

The latest version subjects all underage users to a graduated system of written warnings that would see users’ parents notified on a second offense and see them referred to community-based treatment or counseling groups on the third violation. Underage alcohol offenses would be subject to those same penalties.

Records of those warnings must be destroyed after two years or when the individual reaches their 21st year.

Previous versions of the bill levied fines of up to $50 on users aged 18, 19 and 20 found in possession of Marijuana.

As amended, the bill requires police have their body cameras enabled during interactions. Those records must be reviewed by the state Attorney General’s Office, which must submit a report to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, the state body tasked with administrating the state’s legal marijuana market.

Gov. Phil Murphy and lawmakers in the Senate have for weeks struggled to reach a deal on penalties for underage marijuana use even as they hurtled toward procedural deadlines that could force the governor to take out his veto pen.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin delayed a Feb. 8 quorum that could have made the legalization and decriminalization bills law without his signature in the face of the threat of a conditional veto from the governor.

On Thursday, Coughlin cancelled an Assembly voting session and five committee meetings, pushing the procedural deadline to Monday.

The delays to Assembly business — new bills must be introduced at a quorum, which the Assembly cannot call without upending marijuana talks — have rankled some lawmakers, but optimism about the cleanup bill’s chances has continued to rise since Scutari declared talks dead Wednesday.

Sweeney on Friday told the New Jersey Globe he believes he has the 21 votes needed to clear the bill through the Senate, though the chamber has, on previous passes at legalization, failed to meet that threshold.

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