Gun bills and open space ballot question among measures approved by Legislature

By David Levinsky -

TRENTON — With the summer recess in New Jersey’s legislative calendar fast approaching, state lawmakers voted Thursday to approve a host of bills, including several gun control measures and a resolution to place a referendum on the November ballot to dedicate sales tax revenue to fund open space and farmland preservation.

Among the gun bills up for vote in the Assembly was an anti-trafficking measure penned by Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, to permit authorities to seize and apply for forfeiture motor vehicles used to transport illegal guns. The bill also makes illegal gun trafficking a crime subject to the No Early Release Act mandating that violators serve 85 percent of any prison term before they become eligible for parole, and it increases penalties for gun dealers who knowingly sell firearms to “straw purchasers,” people who intend to transfer the weapons to a person banned from owning a gun.

The bill was approved by the Senate in May, so the Assembly’s 73-3 vote was the final legislative approval. It goes to Gov. Chris Christie’s office for consideration.

In addition to Singleton’s bill, the Assembly approved increased penalties for previously convicted felons found in possession of a firearm and unlawfully giving a gun to a juvenile, as well as a bill clarifying that the aggregate number of gun permits issued by a police department should be considered a public record. Those measures were already approved by the Senate and now go to Christie’s desk.

During the busy voting session, the Assembly also voted to approve a measure sparing employers from a 10 percent unemployment insurance surcharge and a November ballot resolution asking voters to allow nonprofit veterans organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion to use proceeds from post lotteries, raffles, bingo nights and other games of chance to pay for organization expenses. Current law restricts them from using the proceeds for anything but charitable causes.

In the Senate, lawmakers voted 36-2 supporting a separate ballot resolution that would ask voters to approve dedicating one-fifth of one cent of the state sales tax to land preservation programs, including the purchase of flood-prone homes.

One-fifth of one cent is expected to generate about $200 million a year beginning in fiscal year 2015.

The New Jersey Farm Bureau and numerous environmental and conservation groups had pressed lawmakers to approve the dedicated sales tax as the primary funding source for the state’s preservation program. Previously, the state has borrowed large sums for preservation, including $400 million in 2009 that is now entirely appropriated.

Since 1961, voters have passed 13 of 13 ballot measures in support of funding for open space, farmland and historic preservation.

The resolution must still be approved by the Assembly, which has only two more voting sessions scheduled next week before the summer recess.

Tom Gilbert, chairman of NJ Keep It Green, a coalition of 175 environmental and conservation groups, said he was encouraged by the measure’s support in the Senate.

“We’re hopeful it will provide some incentive for the Assembly to post the bill,” Gilbert said.

Among the other measures approved by the Senate was a bill authored by Sen. Diane Allen, R-7th of Edgewater Park, to allow adults who were adopted to obtain their original birth certificate and all available information concerning their family history as well as their birth parents’ contact preferences.

The birth certificates have been sealed in New Jersey for more than 70 years to protect adopted children and families from interference by the biological parents.

“Unfortunately, for years we have been treating adopted adults as second-class citizens because of life circumstances out of their control,” said Allen, who has worked to change the law for 17 years. “None of us have a choice as to the family we were born in to, but as adults, we should have a choice in learning about our family’s identity and medical history.”

The Senate also gave final legislative approval to a bill permitting the state Department of Transportation, New Jersey Turnpike Authority and South Jersey Transportation Authority to enter into sponsorship agreements with companies to help cope with costs of maintenance and upkeep at highway rest stops and service areas.

Under the permitted agreements, companies that provide monetary contributions or services would be recognized by “acknowledgment signs” placed on the highway in advance of the rest stop and within rest stop buildings.

The Assembly and Senate have scheduled voting sessions on Monday and Thursday next week.

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