(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex), Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex), Angelica Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson) and Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) to require school districts to develop a security plan when a school is used as a polling place and classes are in session was released Monday by an Assembly panel.
"Using a school as a polling place opens up the school to traffic that it normally wouldn't have," said Wisniewski. "In the event that a district chooses to keep a school open, it should have a plan in place to ensure the safety and security of students and staff is not jeopardized."
"While a wonderful opportunity for students to see democracy in action, as a parent, it is a little unnerving to think of strangers walking in and out of your child's school," said Jimenez. "Taking the necessary measures to shield students from any potential dangers is the right move."
"We certainly don't want to impede on the electoral process, but we also want to make sure that precautions are taken to keep students safe," said DeAngelo. "In this day and age, we cannot be too cautious, especially when it comes to the safety and security of our children."
"Sadly we live in a world where we have to be hyper-vigilant," said Singleton. "Taking this proactive approach can ensure that in the case of an emergency, schools will be prepared."
The bill (A-1889) would provide that a school cannot be used as a polling place on a day that classes are in session, unless voting takes place in a room that is directly accessible from the outside and is secured by a door or other barrier from the rest of the building, or there is a uniformed law enforcement officer present and voters are not permitted to pass without supervision through the interior of the building when entering or leaving that room.
The bill would also clarify that if a polling place is located in a public school on the day of an election, a board of education has the option of whether to hold classes on the day of the election.
If the board determines to hold classes, the bill would require the board to establish and implement a written security plan, based on guidelines established by the Attorney General, to ensure that an appropriate level of security is maintained to protect students when the school is open and to maintain the proper functioning and integrity of the voting process during the election. Under the bill, the school district would have to submit the security plan to the attorney general, no later than 90 days prior to the election, for review and approval. Building security procedures and any information submitted to the attorney general in regard to the security plan would not be accessible to the public under the provisions of the public records act, P.L.1963, c.73, or any other law.
The bill would provide that any expenses incurred by a school district in implementing its security plan would be reimbursed by the state upon application to the Attorney General. The bill would appropriate from the General Fund to the Department of the Treasury such amounts as may be necessary to provide the reimbursement required under the bill.
The bill was approved by the Assembly Homeland Security & State Preparedness Committee.