Mixed bag for S. Jersey lawmakers: Police funeral fund gets OK, but college-affordability study rejected
By Jim Walsh - Courier-Post
TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie on Monday signed into law several bills backed by South Jersey legislators, including a measure that would help cover funeral costs for police officers and others who die in the line of duty.
But the Republican governor also vetoed 10 bills sponsored by local Democrats, including one that would create a commission to study college affordability. Three vetoes were conditional, including one for a proposed “Lisa’s Law” that would allow court-ordered electronic monitoring of domestic-violence offenders.
In blocking creation of the “College Affordability Study Commission,” Christie said the proposed 10-member panel would be “redundant of current efforts underway by the Secretary of Higher Education and the (Higher Education Student Assistance Authority).”
Christie asserted the monitoring technology required for Lisa’s Law “does not appear to be currently available to law enforcement.” The bill calls for a four-year pilot program in Ocean County that would track certain domestic-violence offenders and alert victims when an offender is within a certain proximity.
Christie said the Attorney General’s Office is to prepare a study on current technology within 120 days. He said a decision could be made by July “as to whether this monitoring system, or a suitable alternative ... can be implemented.”
Local legislators criticized the governor’s actions.
Assemblywoman Celeste Riley, D-Bridgeton, called the veto of the college-cost study “truly disconcerting, given the number of students in New Jersey struggling to balance multiple jobs and classwork just to pay for their education.” Riley sponsored the measure along with Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney, D-Gloucester.
Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-Burlington, said he was “disappointed and a bit surprised at the governor’s delay (for Lisa’s Law) given that roughly 15-18 other states have instituted similar laws.”
The bill was named after Letizia Zindell of Toms River, who was slain in 2009 by her former fiancé, Frank Frisco. The killing occurred one day after Frisco was released from jail for violating a restraining order that Zindell had filed against him.
Christie also conditionally vetoed a measure that would have assured funding for a toll-free hotline for mothers of special-needs children.
The governor said that the Mom2Mom Peer Support Program “plays an important role” for children and families in the state but that the bill’s requirement for an annual appropriation was “unwarranted.”
A gay-rights group blasted another of Christie’s vetoes, rejecting a measure that would revise the procedure for amending birth certificates for people who have undergone sex-change operations.
Christie said the bill would not maintain “appropriate safeguards” for legal documents that help establish a person’s identity. Garden State Equality, an activist group, called the veto “a vindictive move to punish the LGBT community after a year of tremendous progress.”
The funeral relief measure, one of 12 bills signed by Christie, would also help the families of firefighters, correctional officers and emergency medical responders. The bill’s sponsors included state senators Donald Norcross and Fred Madden and Assembly members Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, all Camden County Democrats.
“This is a small token for the families of first responders who have paid the ultimate price in service to this state and to their communities,” Norcross said in a statement.
The law would provide up to $10,000 for qualifying families. The reimbursement would be reduced by any amount payable for funeral costs from worker’s compensation.
Among other bills, Christie signed legislation that will:
• Make it easier for New Jersey consumers to compare prices and services from electricity providers. The measure authorizes the state Board of Public Utilities to issue regulations having electricity providers provide such information.
Its sponsors include Assemblymen John Burzichelli and Paul Moriarty, both D-Gloucester.
• Provide information to parents to help prevent sports-related eye injuries among children. The legislation requires the Department of Education to develop a fact sheet for distribution to parents and guardians that would include information on how to recognize, treat and prevent eye injuries.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr., D-Burlington, a doctor who sponsored the measure, said eye injuries are the leading cause of blindness in children. Most eye injuries for children 11 to 14 are sports-related, he added.
• Revise election procedures for Gloucester City’s council. The governing body in the future will hold three at-large members and one each from three wards.
Christie also vetoed measures that would have required property-tax bills to include information about state tax-relief programs. He said the bill, proposed by Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, “may actually result in higher taxes through the imposition of new, administrative burdens on state and local officials.”
The governor also rejected creation of a proposed 21-member panel to study establishment of full-day kindergarten programs. He said the Singleton-backed measure would duplicate efforts by his administration.