TRENTON — Two bills to increase oversight over police acquisitions of military equipment were sent to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk Thursday during a busy Assembly voting session that also featured a vote to approve animal-cruelty legislation inspired by a Burlington County dog’s death.
The voting session was held to make up for one canceled Monday because of the forecast calling for over a foot of snow in Trenton and other parts of New Jersey.
The two-bill military equipment package was written in response to concerns about the U.S. Department of Defense’s 1033 program, which transfers surplus military equipment to local police departments and law enforcement agencies.
Lawmakers said the program has provided New Jersey police with over $50 million worth of equipment, ranging from computers and office supplies to armored vehicles, assault rifles and grenade launchers. But it has also faced increased scrutiny in the wake of demonstrations and riots in Ferguson, Missouri, where police were seen responding with armored vehicles and other military equipment.
One of the two approved bills would require the state Attorney General’s Office to direct the Office of Emergency Management to review past equipment transfers. Based on the findings, the attorney general — in consultation with the New Jersey State Police superintendent, the director of the state Division of Criminal Justice, and county prosecutors — would determine if policies, procedures and guidelines governing the program should be revised.
The bill would also require the attorney general to report on the program annually to the governor, Senate president and Assembly speaker.
The second bill would require local and county law enforcement agencies to get the approval of their municipal or county governing body before submitting an application to the federal government to obtain equipment.
Both bills were approved by the Senate in December. The Assembly unanimously approved them Thursday.
In a statement, Sen. Nia Gill, who sponsored the Senate package, said the additional oversight of the program was sound policy.
“While some of the equipment may be useful to these agencies, a number of these items appear more suited for war rather than for use in our communities,” said Gill, D-34th of Montclair. “We must ensure the equipment obtained through this program is appropriate for use by local departments, and this will create an oversight process for requests and transfers at both the state and local level.”
The Assembly approved the animal-cruelty bill 65-2, with three abstentions.
The bill, known as Moose’s Law after a Delran family’s late Labrador retriever, would 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.
The bill would also require the New Jersey Department of Health to create an animal-cruelty registry and make a list of offenders available on its website.
The legislation was sponsored by Assemblymen Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, and Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delanco, in response to a 2012 case involving Moose, a missing dog that was found by a neighbor who sold the pet to a Pennsylvania family that agreed to pay the neighbor to train it.
The dog later died after the trainer left it inside her car on a hot July afternoon.
The legislation was previously approved by the Assembly and Senate in 2013, but was pocket-vetoed by Christie at the end of the 2012-13 voting session.
Singleton and Conaway reintroduced the measure last year, arguing that the proposed restrictions could help prevent another, similar tragedy.
“Not everyone entrusted with the welfare of animals has their best interests at heart,” Conaway said. “This legislation would prevent anyone with bad intentions from having the privilege of working with animals.”
“After what they’ve gone through, Moose’s family has been fighting to ensure that other families don’t have to endure a similar tragedy,” Singleton said. “Putting these restrictions in place will help ensure that his heartbreaking story results in greater protections for animals.”
Thursday’s Assembly vote sends the bill to the Senate for consideration.