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New Jersey Policy Perspective interim president Jon Shure. (Photo: Jon Shure).

Shure: ‘When I learned how powerful the New Jersey Legislature could be’

By Jon Shure, January 10 2022 12:01 am

To a young newspaper reporter watching from the back of the chamber as the New Jersey Assembly’s proceedings dragged on at a pace that would have made “glacially” seem supersonic, something seemed to be amiss.

I knew the State Constitution requires the Senate and Assembly to organize themselves “at noon on the second Tuesday of January of each year.” But noon was getting closer and closer and no one seemed in any rush to finish the business of the outgoing Assembly so the new one could begin. As the minutes ticked away, it was obvious the list of legislation still to be considered could never be finished in time for the Assembly to comply with the rules.

Finally, I turned to a journalist who’d covered the Legislature for many years and said, “They’re not gonna make it. What will happen?”

The grizzled vet smiled and said, “They’ll just stop the clock.”

Seeing the confusion on my face, my colleague explained that, in effect, it’s noon when the Legislature says it’s noon. No matter when the old session ends and the new one begins, it will be recorded that the time of the latter was 12 pm.

That’s when I learned how powerful the New Jersey Legislature could be. It could make time stand still.

So, sometime on January 11 — it might or might not be at noon — the 232nd two-year session of the New Jersey Legislature will commence. The slate will be clean. Any bills that never got a committee hearing or a floor vote in the 231st will have to be reintroduced and the process will start over.

Over the next two years, we’ll find out how much progress New Jersey’s legislators — equal partners under the law with the Governor — will make toward this becoming a state where anyone can succeed regardless of their background. Will the racial wealth gap shrink? Will climate change become less of a threat to lives and livelihoods? Will it be easier to pay for college? The list of questions is almost endless. Will the answers make New Jersey a better place?

There’s reason to be encouraged. In the past few years, New Jersey raised its minimum wage and ended the travesty of far too many workers having no paid sick time. More people found affordable health coverage, and the use of clean, renewable energy like wind and solar grew.

On the other hand, some politicians and pundits say the loss of several Democratic seats in the Legislature and the Governor winning reelection by less than a landslide last November could foment hesitancy to support policies that, though they are right, might face some opposition.

We’ll see. In the meantime, though, New Jersey Policy Perspective offers a “Blueprint to Secure a Just Recovery” to guide the way toward a more equitable state with a stronger economy that works for everyone.

This Blueprint is a wide-ranging document with more than 60 policy proposals, each developed within an anti-racist framework, that range from a new child tax credit, to baby bonds, to fully funding community building blocks like public schools — from pre-K to college — and NJ Transit.

If enacted, these reforms would help every resident have a real shot at success, and make sure the state is taking meaningful steps toward ending existing racial disparities in income, health, education — and just plain opportunity.

Thousands of pieces of legislation will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session. Far fewer will pass both houses and be signed into law by the Governor. Right now, it’s like a football game before the coin-toss: no one is ahead or behind; who wins or loses is to be determined.

The session will be what the people we elected make of it. And I have to believe that, if they put their minds to it, they can end poverty, thwart the worst dangers of climate change and dismantle structural racism, just for starters. Those challenges seem eminently manageable for a group of people who can hold back the hands of time when it serves their interest.

Jon Shure is the founder and Interim President of New Jersey Policy Perspective, a nonpartisan think tank; and a senior consultant at Taft Communications 

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