By David Levinsky Staff writer
Burlington County Times
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a pair of high-profile bills that sought to study ways to make college more affordable and to protect domestic violence victims.
They received bipartisan support during votes in both chambers of the Legislature, but Christie found fault with aspects of both.
He issued an absolute veto of the college affordability bill, which he described as “redundant” to ongoing efforts by his administration. He conditionally vetoed the domestic violence bill, claiming the feasibility of a proposed electronic monitoring of certain offenders should be studied by the Attorney General’s Office before any pilot program is implemented.
The college affordability bill was sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, and sought to create a commission to look at creative ways to reduce higher-education costs and keep more students from leaving the state.
Among the ideas it would research would be a deferred-tuition model, dubbed “Pay Forward, Pay Back,” permitting students to skip tuition payments while attending New Jersey colleges in return for a cut of their future salaries for a number of years after they graduate.
The commission would also be charged with studying an accelerated-degree program allowing high-performing students to obtain medical or graduate-level science or engineering degrees earlier than traditional programs, as well as partnerships between county colleges and four-year schools to permit students enrolled in county schools to finish their undergraduate degrees at the local campus at a reduced cost.
In his veto message, Christie commended the Legislature for its interest in addressing issues related to college affordability, but said the issues are already being studied by the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education and the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority.
“Quite simply, the proposed work of the commission is redundant of current efforts underway by the secretary of higher education and (the assistance authority),” Christie said in his veto message.
Sweeney said he was disappointed by the governor’s decision and would reintroduce the bill after the new legislative session begins.
“We are facing a college affordability crisis here in New Jersey. The answers won’t just present themselves. We have to act,” he said in a statement. “As we begin the new session, I fully plan, along with my colleague Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, on reintroducing the bill. New Jersey’s middle-class families and working poor can’t afford, literally and figuratively, to sit idly by and do nothing.”
The domestic violence bill sought to create a four-year pilot program in Ocean County for electronically monitoring certain domestic violence offenders that would alert victims if an offender was within a certain proximity. It also called for the state to appropriate $1 million to implement the program.
The bill was named after Letizia “Lisa” Zindell, a Toms River woman who was murdered in 2009 by her former fiancé, Frank Frisco, the day after he was released from jail for violating a restraining order that Zindell had filed against him. Frisco later killed himself.
Christie said that he supports the concept, but that the technology necessary to provide the proposed monitoring, warning and round-the-clock supervision does not appear to be currently available. His conditional veto calls for the attorney general to investigate the availability of the technology and report back within 120 days.
“With the Legislature’s swift concurrence with these recommendations, this expeditious but thorough study will be in hand by the spring,” Christie said. “Together, my administration, members of the law enforcement community and the Legislature will then be able to make an informed decision before the end of the fiscal year this July as to whether this monitoring system, or a suitable alternative to protect domestic violence victims, can be implemented.”
Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, said he was disappointed and surprised by Christie’s veto of the bill, which he co-sponsored with Assemblyman Ron Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted. Singleton said he would be willing to work with Christie to build a consensus to implement a monitoring program as quickly as possible.
“Letizia Zindell’s tragic death shows more must be done to protect victims of domestic abuse from a similar fate,” he said.