From property taxes to bestiality: 72 bills sit untouched on Christie’s desk

As Gov. Chris Christie and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto argue about who needs to get back to work, 72 bills sit untouched Christie’s desk.

Almost all the bills have been there for several months, and both men could do something to resolve the backup.

The bills range from major reforms — like overhauling Atlantic City’s casino property tax structure and making sweeping changes to the state’s voting laws — to minor, like formally criminalizing bestiality.

Christie last week said the Democrat-led Assembly — which hasn’t been in session since June and likely won’t be until after the Nov. 3 election — should stop campaigning and hold a session. Prieto fired back by noting that Christie, who’s spent most of his time in recent months campaigning for president out of state, has dozens of bills sitting on his desk.

What Prieto did not say was that he has the power to easily force Christie’s hand on the legislation. Most of the bills have been on Christie’s desk since June. If the Assembly were to hold a quorum today, it would trigger the deadline for action on 68 of the 72 bills, forcing Christie or Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno to either sign or veto them. The only other option for Christie would be to allow them to pass into law by taking no action — something he’s never done.

Calling a quorum has gotten easier for Prieto. After the Star-Ledger in 2014 called out the Assembly for appearing to violate its own rules by holding a quorum with just one member present when at least 41 are supposed to show up, the Assembly changed its rules so members don’t have to by physically present and can check in via phone and email.

“The Assembly sets its quorum schedule as it sees fit, but there’s nothing stopping the governor from doing his job and acting now,” Assembly Democratic spokesman Tom Hester said.

The governor's office did not respond to a request for comment.

Here are some of the 72 bills sitting on Christie's desk:

A3981 – “The Casino Property Taxation Stabilization Act.” This is the biggest piece of legislation in a five-bill package intended to aid Atlantic City in during its dark economic times.

The bill would allow casinos to make payments in lieu of property taxes. It would add an element of predictability by eliminating casinos’ property tax appeals. Those appeals have led to local homeowners being forced to shoulder huge property tax increases because the casinos are suddenly paying millions less.

The four other bills — which are also on Christie’s desk — would provide more school aid to the city, require casinos to provide employees with health insurance, reallocate a casino tax to help pay down the city’s debt and eliminate the Atlantic City Alliance, a public-private partnership.

The package was not controversial when passed in June, but fighting over details of between Atlantic City and Atlantic County officials has held it up.

A4218 — “Revises certain laws concerning domestic violence and firearms.”

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords, who narrowly survived a gunshot wound to the head, traveled to Trenton and met with Christie to lobby for this bill. It would require judges to order those subject to a domestic violence final restraining order or convicted of domestic violence to turn over their weapons to law enforcement within 24 hours, or sell them.

Christie has over the last two years taken a rightwards shift on gun issues, and gun rights groups oppose the measure. So the changes of Christie signing the legislation are considered low.

A4265 — “Permits municipal, county, and regional police and fire forces to establish five-year residency requirement for police officers and firefighters.”

Officials in Newark, where the vast majority of police officers live elsewhere, have pushed for this.

Towns would have the option of requiring their police and firefighters to live there for the first five years (they’re already required to live there for the first year in Civil Service towns).

Police unions vociferously oppose the measure. Christie has not said how he feels about it.

A4613 – “The Democracy Act”

This sweeping Democratic bill includes about a dozen measures intended to expand voter access and make it easier to vote. That includes increasing early voting, automatic registration at the MVC, online voter registration and expanding the number of languages on sample ballots. It would also clarify New Jersey’s contradictory U.S. Senate succession laws, and require that a temporary replacement for a House or Senate seat be of the same political party as his or her predecessor.

Though he stopped short of vowing to veto it, Christie has criticized the bill. If he does veto it, Democrats plan to bypass the governor by putting the changes on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment in 2016.

A4143 — “Permits holders of certain alcoholic beverage licenses to be issued amusement game license and updates definition of recognized amusement park.”

You might as well call it the Dave & Buster’s Act. The video arcade/bar chain wants to open several locations in New Jersey. But a law that dates back from the 1950s bans alcohol from being served at establishments with amusement games. (Freehold’s iPlay America, which has amusement games and alcohol, has managed not to run afoul of the law by isolating the bar and game sections).

• A3012 — “Criminalizes bestiality”

New Jersey authorities have prosecuted acts of bestiality under animal cruelty law. But those charges were dropped against a defendant in 2009 when a judge ruled that his alleged molestation of cows did not constitute animal cruelty.

Under the bill, bestiality would be a fourth degree crime, punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

The bill passed without opposition and Gov. Christie is widely expected to sign it. But it was passed in May, and he’s yet to do so.

• A3223 — "Requires Division of Local Government Services to include certain property tax information on division's web page."  

The state would be required to post town-by-town average residential property tax bills, the amount of the average homestead credit and the net average property tax bill counting the credit.

The state used to publish the information on its website, which made property tax increases look worse because homestead rebates have declined under the Christie administration. It stopped publishing it in 2014.

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