Senate votes to send water safety bill, juvenile justice reform to Christie

 Legislation to create a water safety standard for an unregulated chemical found in two Moorestown municipal wells was sent to Gov. Chris Christie’s desk Monday, along with over a dozen other bills that received final legislative approval.

Among the others approved were measures to boost penalties on imposters found guilty of masquerading as veterans or service members, and a bill prohibiting the state from docking aid from school districts with low participation rates on the controversial Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam.

Another bill sent to Christie proposes changes to the juvenile justice system.

The bills were approved on the Senate’s last voting session before the Legislature’s traditional summer slowdown. Although the Senate is scheduled to convene next month for an abbreviated summer session, the Assembly is not expected to meet until the fall.

The water safety bill seeks to regulate a maximum contaminant level for 1,2,3-trichloropane, also known as 1,2,3-TCP, which was discovered in water samples from two Moorestown municipal wells in 2013.

The man-made chemical compound is a likely carcinogen, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but is not regulated by either the state or federal government.

Assembly Bill 3954 would order the Drinking Water Quality Institute, a state advisory panel, to recommend a safe level for the chemical in drinking water, and then would mandate the state Department of Environmental Protection to adopt its recommendation within 180 days.

The institute previously issued a recommendation for the chemical in 2009, but the DEP never acted on it because the federal government was in the process of establishing its own standard.

Assemblymen Herb Conaway, D-7th of Delanco, and Troy Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, wrote the bill mandating the state to adopt a standard quickly in response to the chemical’s discovery in water samples taken from the two wells.

The discovery prompted the DEP to advise the municipality to close the wells last October. One remains closed, but a second reopened earlier this month after additional tests for the chemical came back negative.

The Assembly voted to approve the legislation earlier this month, and the Senate voted 31-7 to give the bill final legislative approval.

Stolen Valor Act

The so-called Stolen Valor Act also received final legislative approval by the Senate on Monday. The bill seeks to make the knowing misrepresentation of a veteran or active member of the military for the purpose of obtaining money or other benefits a third-degree crime, punishable by up to three to five years in prison and a minimum $1,000 fine.

Current state law makes it a fourth-degree crime to impersonate a veteran or service member with the intent to deceive, although not necessarily for the purpose of obtaining any kind of benefit.

Fines collected under the bill would be dedicated to a military dependents scholarship fund proposed under separate legislation approved by the Senate and sent to Christie. The fund would provide college scholarships to spouses or children of members killed, missing in action or disabled in military conflicts that occurred after Sept. 11, 2001.

PARCC bills

Another bill sent to Christie would require school districts to post data about student participation in standardized tests within 10 days after a test is administered. A second bill would forbid New Jersey’s education commissioner from withholding school aid from any district based on its test participation rates.

The latter measure was written in response to comments made earlier this year by Commissioner David Hespe that the department could cut funding to schools that do not have enough participation in the PARCC.

Students in third through 11th grades began taking the computer-based test for the first time this year, and many parents have refused to allow their children to be tested, citing concerns about the exam’s effectiveness, purpose, and the amount of classroom time wasted on test administration and preparation.

Earlier this year, Hespe told lawmakers that about 3 percent of students in elementary school grades have opted out of the first part of the test, about 7 percent of ninth- and 10th-graders, and about 14 percent of 11th-graders.

Updated statewide figures that also reflect participation in the exam’s second section have not been announced.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Nia Gill, D- 34th of Montclair, said the legislation was intended to make sure that the testing process is transparent, and that districts won’t be penalized based on parents’ refusals.

Christie has not said whether he will sign or veto the legislation. Although the PARCC is aligned to the Common Core academic standards, which the governor now opposes, he has said the state would continue to use the PARCC to measure student progress and evaluate teachers.

Juvenile justice reform

Among the changes proposed in the juvenile justice reform bill is an increase in the minimum age to waive a juvenile into adult court from 14 to 15. It also would raise the minimum age for transferring a juvenile from a juvenile detention facility to an adult prison from 16 to 18, and would make other changes to allow certain youths to serve their entire sentence in a juvenile facility until they turn 21.

Also, the bill would require the Juvenile Justice Commission to collect, record and analyze data on all New Jersey waiver cases and report the findings.

Sponsors of the bill said the changes are intended to improve the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders and provide relief to the state’s overburdened prisons and corrections facilities.

“These are sensible reforms that will shape the system so that it treats juveniles in a manner that is more fair and just, without compromising public interest and safety,” said Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, R-8th of Evesham. “Similar measures that were enacted in other states were met with quantifiable success, with corrections departments experiencing increases in efficiency and cost savings.”

Rodriguez-Gregg was the only Republican sponsor of the bill. However, it received at least two additional GOP votes when it was approved 53-24 in the Assembly last week.

“It is a fallacy to consider this a primarily left-leaning issue that deals exclusively with social justice,” Rodriguez-Gregg said. “An overburdened corrections system means overburdened taxpayers, and it is that relief that makes this legislation a win-win package of reforms.”


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