Category: Clips

Angelini welcomes opening of new workforce technology center in Eatontown

Source: NJ Advance Media -

State and local officials helped celebrate the grand opening of the new Festo Didatic Center for Workforce Technology Education on Industrial Way on Monday.

Mary Pat Angelini

Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini, R-Monmouth, said Monday’s grand opening was a terrific opportunity to see a business growing in New Jersey, particularly in Monmouth County.

“Good, strong communities need good cooperate partners,” Angelini said. “I know this is going to be a very strong corporate partnership … and hopefully I’ll be back here in a year with an expansion.”

The Festo Didactic Center, part of the Festo AG company with 17,600 employees in more than 100 countries, is a high-tech learning laboratory that will help provide the kind of instruction that modern manufacturers need to compete and succeed.

According to the company, two million manufacturing jobs in the United State are unfilled due to a lack of trained individuals.

Nader Imani, CEO of Festo Didactic Inc., said the new center would be a “job multiplier in New Jersey and beyond for many years to come.”

Tim Lizura, president of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, thanked Festo Didactic, on behalf of the state, for locating the facility in New Jersey.

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Ciattarelli chides stores open on Thanksgiving

Jack Ciattarelli

Hillsborough Beacon -

Assemblyman Jack M. Ciattarelli, who is a Hillsborough resident, lauded retailers who recognize the importance of Thanksgiving by choosing to keep their stores closed.

At the same time, he expressed disappointment with the two dozen malls in New Jersey and the scores of retailers who are open during the holiday.

“Thanksgiving is a truly American holiday which commemorates the harvest festival celebrated by the Pilgrims in 1621,” said Mr. Ciattarelli, a Republican representing the 16th Legislative District. “In that sense, Thanksgiving is really more than just a holiday — it is an American ideal.

“American capitalism, marked by free markets and choice, is also an ideal. What happens, however, when long-held values collide with capitalism?” questioned Ciattarelli rhetorically.

“More and more stores opening earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving is deeply troubling,” he said. “Do the stores open because people shop, or do people shop because stores are open?

“As for dedicated retail employees, I am saddened that they cannot enjoy the holiday,” said Mr. Ciattarelli. “Stores that recognize the meaning of Thanksgiving by staying closed and allowing their workers to enjoy the holiday should be commended.”

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O’Scanlon, Linden officials debate red-light cameras

Source: MyCentralJersey.com -

In a hot, cramped Police Traffic Bureau office at City Hall in Linden, the state’s most vocal opponent of red-light traffic cameras on Monday afternoon faced off with elected city officials who are intent on keeping the program.

Declan O'Scanlon

After 45 minutes of fierce debate, Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon shook hands with Mayor Richard Gerbounka and Councilman Peter Brown — and they agreed to disagree.

This Union County city is one of 24 that the state has allowed to install the cameras.

The pilot program, however, appears to be headed for a dead end. The state Department of Transportation has informed municipalities that they must turn off the cameras Dec. 16, when the law expires. Lawmakers have not decided whether to continue or expand the pilot program.

Proponents of the cameras say they improve safety and reduce accidents. But critics say they are a money-making scheme for third-party camera operators and cash-strapped municipalities, and that they in fact cause more accidents.

Few municipal officials have spoken out against the cameras. Earlier this year, however, the mayor of Brick became the first mayor to turn off the ones in his town.

O’Scanlon pointed to data compiled by Linden showing that there were 10 right-angle crashes the year before any of the city’s five cameras were installed and 10 accidents at the same intersections in the most recent year.

During those years, the city raked in $10 million in fines issued by the cameras.

O’Scanlon, a Monmouth County Republican whose district is nowhere near this Democratic city, visited with officials after he took up the mayor’s invitation.

The assemblyman called the city’s program a “poster child” for what is wrong with the program.

“You not only have not less accidents, you have more severe accidents. The Linden example is a disaster for the red-light camera program,” he said.

Gerbounka and Brown disagreed, saying that there have not been any pedestrian fatalities since the cameras were installed.

But O’Scanlon argued that if the cameras were improving safety, the data should show fewer right-angle crashes.

Just one camera intersection — Route 1 at Park Avenue — showed a reduction of right-angle crashes from seven before the installation to two in the most recent year.

Three others showed an increase, including Route 1 at Morses Mill Road, which had an increase of one right-angle crash before the camera to six crashes in the most recent year.

City officials’ meeting with O’Scanlon ended on a friendly note after Gerbounka acknowledged that neither side would be able to get the other to budge.

“You’ve won me over as far as your character goes,” O’Scanlon told him. “We all agree we want to improve safety. But I will tell you, the numbers don’t back that up.”

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Dancer sponsors Pledge of Allegiance bill

NJ 101.5 -

In response to a lawsuit against a Monmouth County school district, a local lawmaker has introduced legislation to protect the Pledge of Allegiance in its current form and potentially reimburse any public entity that successfully defends the Pledge in court.

Under the measure from Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-Cream Ridge), court costs and attorney fees could be awarded to a public body – a school or local government, for example – that prevails in fighting for the Pledge. The reimbursement would come from the plaintiffs, or those looking to change or discard the Pledge.

Ron Dancer

“Our public tax dollars are better spent on students in the classroom than on attorneys in the courtroom,” Dancer said, noting there has not been one ruling against the Pledge in any federal district court.

“If anyone wants to remain silent during the Pledge of Allegiance, that’s their right,” he said. “But it is not their right to silence us and make us pay to defend a right that was paid for by the men and women of our armed services.”

An unnamed family, claiming the Pledge discriminates against children with atheist beliefs, has taken the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District to court, attempting to remove the words “Under God.”

A state Superior Court judge on Wednesday heard arguments on the school district’s efforts to dismiss the suit, but has not yet issued a ruling.

Dancer’s bill would also authorize the recitation of the Pledge at all public meetings in New Jersey.

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Daily Record Editorial: Bramnick may be what state needs

Daily Record Editorial -

Jon Bramnick

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick is a funny guy. Seriously. You wouldn’t really expect it at a glance – Bramnick is, after all, a Republican lawyer who very much looks the part of a Republican lawyer – but he’s also had some experience with stand-up comedy. So he knows how to make people laugh, and he knows the value of a little humor.

Bramnick, R-Union, carried that light-hearted message to the New Jersey League of Municipalities convention last week, where he helped lead a panel discussion on “The Power of LOL: Using Humor to Solve Municipal Issues.” The gist was that officials should lighten up a little in trying to get things done. They may find that a few laughs can make their path a lot easier, with allies and opponents alike.

It’s a message public officials would do well to heed. Most New Jerseyans would love to find a politician they can laugh with rather than laugh at. That doesn’t mean treating the serious business of government and politics lightly. It does mean giving residents a sense that real people are in charge, people with an independent mind and a sense of humor and not just a collection of vaguely shady characters serving themselves and their benefactors instead of the public.

There was a time when that was supposed to be Christie’s niche, a hard-driving federal attorney who had busted no small number of corrupt New Jersey politicians and said that, as governor, he was going to do things differently than the average politician. But Christie has turned out to be just as manipulative and abusive with his power as those of whom he had once been so critical. He earns points with the public for his own self-deprecating humor, but there’s a phony quality to it that’s been exposed by his thin-skinned arrogance and bullying nature.

There’s something a little different about Bramnick as well, but it feels more honest. He doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a loyal Republican. He is a skilled politician, having navigated Statehouse waters to a position of authority. He’s too much of an apologist for Christie, and now some believe the governor may be grooming him as his successor. Bramnick is certainly among the top Republicans in the mix for the 2017 gubernatorial race.

But Bramnick also spends a lot of time talking about humor and civility in politics, not exactly common topics among lawmakers. His “fiscal sanity tour” this year included a call to revamp the state’s corrupted redistricting process to make it less partisan. That would be to the Republicans’ advantage, of course; Democrats controlling the Legislature are also able to control that redistricting process through the partisan appointment of a tie-breaking voter. But without a more independent approach, most legislative districts will remain hopelessly non-competitive.

Here’s hoping Bramnick does indeed toss his hat into the gubernatorial ring for 2017. Maybe he can be what Christie has only pretended to be — a leader who can distance himself from the usual political nonsense and govern the state responsibly. We’d still like to think that’s possible. Hey, don’t laugh.

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O’Scanlon voices concerns about loosening property tax cap

Source: Asbury Park Press -

A state lawmaker wants to loosen the cap on property tax increases to enable cities and towns to hire more police officers.

A 2010 state law reduced the cap on annual increases in local property tax levies to 2 percent and trimmed the number of exemptions, leaving in place ones such as increased costs for pensions, health benefits, debt, construction and emergencies.

“We all agreed to the cap. We should have a high bar for exceptions to the cap.” Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon

Assemblyman Gary Schaer, D-Passaic, wants to add an exception for local matching funds for grants. He said mayors have told him in his role as Assembly Budget Committee chairman about “a frustration that money is being left on the table” when localities decline grants that require matching funds because doing so would push them beyond the 2 percent cap.

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, said that Schaer’s proposal deserves consideration but that he has some concerns.

Declan O'Scanlon

“We all agreed to the cap. We should have a high bar for exceptions to the cap,” O’Scanlon said.

Community Oriented Policing Services grants available through the U.S. Department of Justice, for example, cover up to 75 percent of an officer’s salary and benefits for three years, up to a maximum of $125,000. A local government pays for 25 percent.

After three years, though, those costs are entirely paid by a local government. At that point, would the full amount then be exempt from the cap? Or would municipalities face the prospect of having to lay off those officers?

Also, O’Scanlon noted, voters can approve exceeding the cap in a local referendum — though he acknowledged those public votes may not happen in a timely enough manner to be helpful for a municipality facing a deadline to apply for and accept a grant.

“The whole idea of the cap was to give more control over spending increases to taxpayers,” O’Scanlon said.

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Dancer seeking law protecting school children from registered offenders

Source: NJ 101.5 -

Ron Dancer

New Jersey school districts may soon have to provide local police departments with a list of all school bus stop locations under legislation being sponsored by Assemblyman Ronald Dancer (R-Jackson).

The point of the legislation, according to Dancer, is so police departments can be made aware of any bus stops that are located near the residence of a registered sex offender.

Dancer said law enforcement could cross check the school bus stop list against the Megan’s Law registry and quickly find out if a convicted sex offender is living nearby.

“There’s no other responsibility by a school district other than to provide the school bus stop list to the police department,” Dancer explained.

Dancer said bus stops that are located near registered sex offenders might prompt police to increase patrols when they know children are being picked up and dropped off.

“Police can prevent a tragedy if they’re provided with the information of where the school bus stops are located. It would be invaluable for police to know that there are children at a bus stop or walking down the street and may be passing by where a registered sex offender is,” Dancer said.

If there is not a local police department in the school district, the list would be provided to the New Jersey State Police.

“This bill will heighten the awareness and the vigilance for the protection of children,” Dancer insisted.

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As NJ red light-camera program fades, O’Scanlon seeks green light for smart cars

Source: NewsWorks -

Legislators in New Jersey appear poised to sweep the state’s red light-camera program into history’s dustbin, but the man who led the effort already has his eyes on the next generation of safety tech.

The camera program was a pilot, set to sunset in December. Without a bill to renew it, the program will die, and the companies that operate the cameras will have to pack up their gear and take it home.

The program had earned praise from some local officials, who lobbied to keep it alive, saying it deterred traffic violations, increased safety and raised revenue.

 

Declan O'Scanlon

“Cars today can drive all day long at 100 mph. If you have areas with driverless cars, they could facilitate those speeds. You can also have vehicle-to-vehicle communications, cars communicating with each other. That’s the next thing that will increase safety at intersections.” — Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon

 

But Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, R-Monmouth, who made eliminating the cameras his personal mission, says they represent nothing but a money grab.

“Unfortunately, we have turned our police, in many areas of New Jersey and many areas of the nation, into pseudo tax collectors,” he said. “Police are pressured regularly to increase the number of tickets they write. That should not ever be the message from elected officials to police officers.”

O’Scanlon believes the future of traffic safety lies in smart cars, not cameras.

“Cars today can drive all day long at 100 mph,” he said. “If you have areas with driverless cars, they could facilitate those speeds. You can also have vehicle-to-vehicle communications, cars communicating with each other. That’s the next thing that will increase safety at intersections.”

O’Scanlon says he’s working on legislation that would pave the way for these sorts of smart cars. As for the cameras, there’s no indication that the legislators will try to save them; even if they did, Gov. Chris Christie has said he’d probably veto the bill.

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Bramnick bill would help residents who cultivate natural habitats

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer -

When he created a natural habitat on the acre surrounding his Cape May County home, Mike Crewe didn’t know he’d be summoned to court to answer for it. His Lower Township property had become a kind of oasis amid the area’s manicured lawns, a colorful meadow for monarch butterflies, native bees, and other species of wildlife.

So Crewe, program director of the New Jersey Audubon Society’s Cape May Bird Observatory, was disappointed by the reaction of neighbors who complained about his un-mowed grounds to the municipality, which cited him for code violations last winter.

The clash was settled in a plea bargain, with the local prosecutor allowing half an acre as habitat, but the case clearly demonstrated the problem homeowners face in trying to provide food and shelter for wildlife, then running into municipal ordinances that require mowing.

That issue would be resolved by a bill that passed the New Jersey Assembly’s Environment and Solid Waste Committee last month and that awaits a vote by the full Assembly and passage by the Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Assembly Appropriations Committee Chairman John Burzichelli and Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, calls on the state Department of Environmental Protection to establish a certification program to encourage habitat plans and license them, heading off municipal code violations.

Jon Bramnick

The program will help homeowners “take an active role in protecting our environment,” said Jon Bramnick, Assembly minority leader (R., Union), who has – with his wife, Pat – created a habitat at their Westfield home. “Altering a property to comply with standards established by the DEP will help wildlife return to its natural habitat.”

The change can’t come soon enough for New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, New Jersey Audubon Society officials said. More than 30 percent of the land is considered urban, including lawns at office parks, golf courses, athletic fields, and residential yards. Lawns take up much of the 1.6 million acres of urban development.

 

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Simon: Study up on school consolidation

Donna Simon

Source: Asbury Park Press op-ed by Donna Simon -

New Jersey’s school district landscape has remained largely unchanged throughout the last century, even in the face of significant geographic and population shifts. Small districts made sense 100 years ago to provide students in rural areas with educational opportunities, but many rural communities have since become suburban, making a lot of these small districts wasteful and inefficient.

A recent report by the Center for American Progress found that nearly 62 percent of New Jersey’s small districts are suburban and close enough to be easily consolidated. In fact, the report also rated the state’s system of several hundred districts as the least efficient in the country. It also found that by trimming management and redrawing district boundaries, taxpayers could save nearly $100 million a year.

Unnecessary administrative costs are among the reasons we continue to have the highest property taxes in the country. On average, more than 50 percent of our annual property taxes go toward schools. Taxpayers pay outrageous property tax bills for the salaries and benefits of the duplicative layers of administrators in our 590 school districts. This summer, the state auditor counted 278 school districts that serve only students through sixth or eighth grade. Those districts spend $279 million cumulatively on administrative costs alone.

Throughout the last few decades, proposals to consolidate have evoked strong reactions. It’s understandable that something new can be unsettling to students, parents and school staff. But it can also generate an inspiring amount of community creativity. That is what happened in Hunterdon County, where voters overwhelmingly approved the merger of four school districts last year.

More than 85 percent of voters in West Amwell, Stockton and Lambertville cast their votes in favor of consolidating their elementary school districts and shared high school district. The district is now operating at $170,000 less than if they remained separate. This successful merger is proof of the benefits of regionalization in certain communities. As South Hunterdon continues to craft a road map for regionalization in its district, our Legislature should be taking a more serious approach to school consolidation on a statewide level.

That’s why I recently introduced legislation, A-3814, to establish a task force on school district regionalization. The bill will provide a more comprehensive look into the issue and the potential outcomes for school districts.

The task force will offer recommendations to help incentivize district consolidation and overcome the challenges associated with regionalization. Specifically, it will review and make recommendations on the financing of in-depth feasibility studies, reducing the cost of pursuing regionalization, coping with issues regarding district governance and financing, and integrating curriculum, programs and staff. It will also look at maintaining and increasing educational quality. By increasing efficiencies, reducing redundancies and seaming the academic curriculum for our students, our districts can be better positioned to succeed.

As has been proven in past attempts, consolidation is not effective if mandated by the state. There needs to be a homegrown interest and the decision to consolidate needs to be made by the local communities, as was the case in South Hunterdon. At that point in the process, the state needs to be in a strong position to partner with those districts that are interested and provide a tool kit that will help guide and support their efforts.

We have looked at this issue in the past. In 2007, executive county superintendents were each required to submit a report on the possibility of consolidating all K-6 districts and K-8 districts into K-12 districts. Feasibility studies were later requested to evaluate the proposed elimination of over 100 districts in New Jersey. A recent Asbury Park Press editorial argued that we need to look at the 2007 report before creating a task force to study the issue. However, as a South Hunterdon school board member recently stated, that would just poison the well and communities would erupt in outrage as they did back then. Local communities do not want Trenton to dictate what is best for them; they want the state to partner with them and support their efforts.

Combining small school districts can make a lot of sense if done carefully and with the involvement and support of local communities. South Hunterdon is teaching us that lesson today. It is an important lesson that if learned, can deliver a high-quality education to students, while being more responsible to taxpayers.

We have an opportunity and obligation to offer New Jersey’s school districts more resourceful and comprehensive tools so they can make the best decisions for the students and taxpayers that they represent. With more school districts than municipalities, it’s time we rethink the status quo.

Assemblywoman Donna Simon represents the 16th Legislative District, which includes parts of Hunterdon, Somerset, Mercer and Middlesex counties.

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