Moose's Law among thousands of bills left over from last session to get a second life

New Jersey's 217th legislative session has only just begun, but already thousands of bills have been introduced and are awaiting action.

Much of the legislation should look familiar to lawmakers since most of the more than 3,000 bills introduced last week were leftovers from the previous session that failed to get signed into law or reach Gov. Chris Christie's desk before last Tuesday's reorganization.

Among the bills that could get a second or third life are measures seeking to criminalize false Amber Alert reports and to increase fines for pedestrian traffic violations, as well as bills to legalize marijuana and require New Jersey towns to enter shared-service agreements or face financial penalties.

Another perennial bill would designate "I'm From New Jersey" as the official state song.

Here's a rundown of some of the legislation already introduced in the Assembly and Senate:

Shared services

Legislation designed to reduce New Jersey's notoriously high property taxes by encouraging towns to enter into more shared services or mergers was the first bill introduced in the Senate during the last session, and it returns to the top priority again.

The bill, S1, sponsored by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, would require the state's Local Unit Alignment Reorganization and Consolidation Commission to recommend areas where towns and other local government entities could save money by merging and sharing services.

Towns that vote down or refuse to implement the recommended sharing agreement within 28 months would have their state aid docked in the amount that would have been saved.

The bill would also temporarily waive civil service rules, which govern the hiring and firing of government employees, when two governments agree to share or merge a service. Municipal officials often have called civil service rules an impediment to sharing services.

Although Sweeney, D-3rd of West Deptford, touted the legislation as one of his top priorities last session, it languished in the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee for the entire two-year session.

A number of other bills that aim to reduce property taxes are also back. One from Assemblyman Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, would return $350 million in "energy tax receipts" collected from utilities and energy companies to municipal governments as tax relief. Another pushed by the Legislature's Republican minority would prohibit payment of unused sick time to public employees when they retire.

Legal marijuana

Legislation to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana for people over age 21 is back before lawmakers for a second consecutive session, although its prospects remain cloudy.

The legislation was originally written by Sen. Nicholas Scutari, D-22nd of Linden, in 2014 and calls for the state to regulate the drug like alcohol. New Jersey now allows the use of the drug for some medicinal purposes.

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, D-15th of Trenton, sponsored the Assembly version of the bill, but neither made it out of committee during the last session.

Christie, who rarely speaks publicly about legislation before it arrives at his desk, has promised to veto any measure that would legalize the drug's use beyond the current medical purpose.

"I am completely, 100 percent opposed to drug legalization," Christie said last fall in a radio interview. "That's different than being for treatment."

Gun bills

Also back before the Legislature are several gun control measures approved by lawmakers but rejected by Christie.

One bill likely to move through the Democratic-controlled Legislature again would require police and other law enforcement officials to be notified about people seeking to expunge their mental health records in order to buy a gun.

Christie conditionally vetoed the measure, arguing that it further complicates the state's gun laws. He called for a more substantial reform of mental health laws.

The Senate voted 27-12 to override, marking the first time in more than 50 previous attempts that one of the legislative chambers obtained the required two-thirds majority vote. But the Assembly was unable to match that feat, despite multiple votes.

The Democrats' majority in the Assembly grew by four seats after November's election, and the party's advantage could prompt leaders to pass the bill again in the next session in hopes of succeeding in an override, since only two Republican votes are needed.

Another vetoed gun bill that could return to Christie's desk would require people convicted of domestic violence crimes and subject to domestic violence restraining orders to surrender any firearms they legally own and revoke their New Jersey firearm purchaser ID card or permit.

New Jersey law already bans people convicted of domestic violence crimes from possessing guns, but supporters pushed for the measure, arguing that state law does not require offenders to turn in the guns they already own.

Pipeline bills

Assemblyman Ronald Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted, has reintroduced several bills intended to influence the controversial New Jersey Natural Gas pipeline proposed to run through northern Burlington, Monmouth and Ocean counties.

Chief among the package of bills is a measure restricting natural gas pipelines from being routed within 100 feet of occupied homes and businesses, and another permitting the construction of natural gas transmission lines on areas of preserved farmland, provided that there is already an existing utility easement on the land and that the transmission line would serve a federal military installation.

Both bills are intended to reroute New Jersey Natural Gas' proposed Southern Reliability Link pipeline through Chesterfield, North Hanover, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and several towns in Monmouth and Ocean counties. However, the bills failed to advance out of committees during the last session.

Although the bills were reintroduced, time is running out for them to influence the pipeline proposal, which is being reviewed by the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities. A decision of the project is expected early this year.

Other notable bills

Among the thousands of bills reintroduced are measures that would mandate the state to appropriate funding annually toward the defense of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and other New Jersey military installations from federal closures and defense cutbacks.

Another returning bill, from 8th Legislative District Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego and Assembly members Maria Rodriguez-Gregg and Joseph Howarth, would make it a crime to knowingly provide false information about a child abduction. Meanwhile, a bill from 7th District Sen. Diane Allen, Singleton and Assemblyman Herb Conaway, would boost fines for traffic violations involving pedestrians and dedicate a share of the revenues for pedestrian safety education improvements on roads with high death tolls.

Moose's Law is also back. The bill, which is named after a Delran family's deceased dog, seeks to give judges discretion to bar people convicted of animal cruelty in any state from owning a pet, or from working or volunteering in jobs requiring direct interaction with animals, including veterinary offices, dog training centers, rescue groups, kennels or groomers.

Current state law does not prohibit people convicted of animal cruelty from owning pets or working with animals in the future.

Last, lawmakers could also pass legislation to designate "I'm From New Jersey" as the state song.

Penned by Phillipsburg, Warren County, songwriter Red Mascara in 1960, Mascara spent some 55 years lobbying lawmakers to name it the state's official song. He died in June with his dream still unfulfilled.

The Assembly bill recognizing Mascara's work was pre-filed for the new session, with 55 of the 80 members as co-sponsors.

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