Category: Clips

Carroll-Handlin discuss SCI panel probing closures

Courier Post -

The New Jersey legislative committee looking into the George Washington Bridge scandal will continue its holding pattern — for now.

State Sen. Loretta Weinberg said Monday that she and fellow co-chair John Wisniewski plan to meet with each other and the Democrat-controlled leadership about what steps the committee should take next. But those meetings haven’t been scheduled.

The scandal touched off efforts in both states to reform the Port Authority, which has earned a poor reputation in many lawmakers’ minds.

Republican Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll pointed out the committee was formed with a broad investigatory mandate and said it should move forward with its probe of the Port Authority.

Michael Patrick Carroll

“The Port Authority can use all the attention we can give it,” he said. “It’s a nest. It’s an expensive nest.”

The committee began meeting in late January 2014 and last issued a report in December that found no connection between the governor and the closures.

Committee members held off subpoenaing witnesses because they did not want to interfere with U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s federal investigation.

Lawmakers said the failure to subpoena testimony likely limited their inquiry, and some Republican members are skeptical about why the committee may have to meet again.

Amy Handlin

“This committee has tossed around many millions of dollars already and at a minimum, if it is reconvened, we owe (taxpayers) some very clear explanations as to where we’re going and what we’re doing that can’t be done and isn’t being done by the U.S. attorney,” said Republican Assemblywoman Amy Handlin.

The Democrat-led committee’s legal fees have been more than $1 million. All told, the investigation — including fees for the governor’s counsel — has run more than $10 million.

Asked whether the sometimes political nature of the investigation affects the chances of the committee’s success, Carroll said no.

“It’s always going to be political,” he said. “Just because it’s political and just because it’s partisan doesn’t mean it’s not necessary. To my view, we’re the Legislature; we’re not some lapdog.”

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O’Scanlon Addresses NJ’s Fiscal Health [video]

Source: NJ Capital Report [video] -

Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, Budget Officer, (R) – NJ, lays out a big picture plan to restructure NJ’s fiscal health, and warns of “de minimis” actions taken by the Legislature that fail to solve NJ’s economic problems in an interview with Steve Adubato for “NJ Capital Report.”

Declan O'Scanlon

“We all should be at the table and talking to the Governor’s Pension Commission. That needs to be a holistic solution. And the leader of the NJEA was in recently talking about it, you heard him say, in between the lines, there are discussions going on. And there needs to be.” – Assembly Budget Officer Declan O’Scanlon

 

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Ciattarelli and Bramnick talk about future of NJ Legislature

New York Times -

At the height of his political celebrity, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey persuaded dozens of Democratic officeholders to back his 2013 re-election campaign. The implied transaction seemed simple: Support a well-liked Republican and win a measure of good will from him, perhaps even some acclaim by association.

One such attempted deal went notoriously wrong in Fort Lee, leading to the indictment on Friday of two former Christie appointees, and a guilty plea by another former associate.

Now, as Mr. Christie fights for his political future, it is New Jersey Republicans weighing how closely to associate with a governor whose popularity has faded in the polls. The issue is not some distant abstraction: The state’s entire General Assembly is up for election this year, and the next governor’s race looms in 2017.

Mr. Christie, who is considering a run for president, has denied any wrongdoing and disavowed any knowledge of the retribution scheme. Paul J. Fishman, the United States attorney for New Jersey who announced the indictments, said there were no plans to charge anyone else in connection with the bridge inquiry based on the evidence gathered so far.

The governor is still expected to play an important role in the legislative elections this year, as the party’s most visible figure and its most formidable fund-raiser.

Jack Ciattarelli

Jack M. Ciattarelli, a Republican member of the Assembly, called the indictments “infuriating and sickening.” He said he would take Mr. Christie at his word that he was not involved in the lane closings, but criticized the governor’s selection of associates. “People who work in his administration seem to have been intoxicated with his popularity, or their power, and they abused it,” he said.

Mr. Ciattarelli, who is viewed as a possible statewide candidate, added that Republicans would be wise to prepare for life after a Christie administration, likening the governor to a pair of presidents who largely defined their parties.

“Every party needs to move on and out from under the shadow of as dominant a figure as Kennedy was, as Reagan was, and here in New Jersey, as Christie is,” he said.

The Democrats are not without their own challenges, having done little to fix the woes that allowed Mr. Christie to win office in the first place: high state and local taxes, a budget deep in the red and a lingering perception of ethical lapses after a long string of corruption cases. (Many were prosecuted by Mr. Christie, in his days as a United States attorney.)

Jon Bramnick

Jon M. Bramnick, the Republican leader in the State Assembly and a potential candidate for governor, said the party planned to put Democrats on the defensive by focusing on their long record of tax increases. The main issue in this year’s legislative election, he said, would be making New Jersey an affordable place to live, and the Democrats’ record of doing the opposite.

Mr. Christie has agreed to play an active role in this year’s campaign for control of the legislative chamber, Mr. Bramnick said. “I think the overwhelming theme is not going to be Chris Christie,” Mr. Bramnick said. “I think the overwhelming theme is: Do you send back the same team that’s been there more than a decade?”

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Dancer says legal ‘typo’ made slingshots illegal in New Jersey

Source: Philadelphia Daily News -

The Boy Scouts, Bart Simpson, angry protesters and random kids in the woods with a stick and rubber band have used them for decades.

 

Ron Dancer

 

“I don’t want any kid to be turned into a juvenile delinquent because of a slingshot.” — Assemblyman Ron Dancer

 

 

In New Jersey, though, possession or transport of a slingshot is a felony punishable by up to 18 months in prison, and there are a few residents, a gun-rights attorney and a state assemblyman trying to change the law.

“There was no crime wave of slingshots that ever resulted in them becoming illegal,” said gun-rights attorney Evan Nappen.

Nappen and Assemblyman Ron Dancer, a Republican from New Jersey’s 12th District, believe the law was a result of a typographical error in 1978 that turned slungshot to slingshot. A slungshot, sometimes called a monkey’s fist, is basically a hard ball or knot, affixed to a rope or cord that would-be robbers could use to whack someone in the head.

Ironically, the typo made slungshots legal, Nappen said.

“You can go in the store and buy a crossbow or a bow-and-arrow. A slingshot, which is far less lethal, is a fourth-degree felony,” Nappen said.

Dancer said he is introducing a bill later this month to decriminalize slingshots.

“I don’t want any kid to be turned into a juvenile delinquent because of a slingshot,” he said.

Arrests for possession of a slingshot aren’t clogging up the courts, obviously. Spokespersons for several large police departments in South Jersey said no one could ever recall arresting someone for it.

Nappen said he represented a “prominent rock star” in a slingshot case.

New Jersey isn’t the only state to regulate them. They’re illegal in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and in New York, slingshots with wrist braces, often called “wrist rockets,” are also regulated.

Many manufacturers and websites won’t ship them to New Jersey, although you could buy one in Pennsylvania and break the law crossing back over a bridge.

Dancer said he can’t imagine any opposition to his bill and Spy, 49, doesn’t think there will be a proliferation of slingshots in New Jersey if and when it passes.

“All my slingshots are broken right now,” he said.

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Bramnick-Schepisi discuss Bridgegate

Jon Bramnick

Holly Schepisi

Star Ledger -

Friday’s federal indictment against his former allies involved in the George Washington Bridge scandal isn’t going to make governing in Trenton any easier for Gov. Chris Christie.

Since the scandal hit in January 2014, Christie’s second-term agenda — with the exception of an overhaul to the bail system and changes to state drug laws — didn’t get very far in the Democratic-led Legislature, which had worked with Christie to cap property tax growth and overhaul the pension system during his first term. The governor’s biggest initiative — further cutbacks to pension and health benefits for public workers — has thus far been a non-starter.

While there was little new information in Friday’s developments, it’s far from the end of the scandal. The specter of criminal trials now loom in which new information could be divulged, leaving open the possibility of more politically damaging revelations.

While Christie’s influence in Trenton is diminished from his first term, it hasn’t collapsed. Republicans in the Legislature, who have refused to join Democrats to override Christie’s vetoes even when it has put them in politically tenuous positions, show no signs of abandoning support for him.

“He did his own internal investigation which pretty much substantiates what took place today,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), a member of the committee that investigated the scandal. “I really don’t think it impacts his governorship in any sort of way.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said that “now hopefully we can get back to the table with the Democrats and begin to get the job done we were sent down to do.”

“Chris Christie can speak for himself, but at this point there’s no evidence that he was part of this,” Bramnick said.

It’s also not clear whether Bridgegate will factor into this year’s Assembly races. All 80 seats are up in the lower house.

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Schepisi: SCI should concentrate efforts on improving accountability at Port Authority

Source: The Star-Ledger -

A co-chairman of the legislative committee investigating the George Washington Bridge scandal said the indictment of two former Christie administration appointees Friday did not answer the question at the heart of the scheme: Who gave the order to close the toll lanes in Fort Lee?

For that reason, state Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) said he intends to reconvene the Joint Select Committee on Investigation to find the answer.

But the committee’s other co-chair, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said she wanted to meet with the committee’s in-house attorney before she was willing to discuss the next move. “We have things to talk about. For me, nothing I heard shocked me but hearing it sickened me,” Weinberg said.

Holly Schepisi

And Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) said now that the case has entered into the criminal arena, the committee should confine its efforts to proposing new legislation that would improve the accountability of the Port Authority and state officials. Otherwise, she said, the committee should disband.

“Something like this should be left to those who do it for a living and be investigated by the professionals, and not the politicians who are trying to get into the newspaper or on TV,” Schepisi said, taking a swipe at Weinberg and Wisniewski, who were frequent guests on national cable news channels after the scandal broke in January 2014.

Bridget Kelly, Christie’s former deputy chief of staff, a former top official with the Port Authority, and former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director Bill Baroni were indicted on conspiracy, civil right offenses and wire fraud for tampering with the traffic flow around the bridge.

U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said the scheme was intended to punish the Democratic mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to endorse Christie’s bid for re-election in 2013. The case against them stems largely from information provided by former Port Authority official David Wildstein, who pleaded guilty Friday morning to two counts of conspiracy and is a cooperating witness.

The legislative committee last year subpoenaed thousands of records and obtained testimony under oath from six witnesses. The committee learned the Office of Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs, which was under Kelly’s purview, kept track of elected officials who supported the governor and those who didn’t. Mayors considered unsupportive to Christie were treated less favorably than his allies by staffers inside his office, many of whom moonlighted on his re-election campaign.

A top liaison between Christie and local officials, Christina Renna, told the committee her staff would receive “mandatory directives” to brush off calls from unsupportive officials.

The indictment delves into the cross-over between the campaign and the governor’s front office staff. Weinberg and Wisniewski said the indictment makes them want to dig deeper on this front.

Schepisi said the legislative committee should be commended “for bringing this to the attention of the U.S. Attorney” early on. But as the months wore on, she said, “we were a kangaroo court.”

“We unnecessarily put good people through a public spectacle and damaged the reputation of some people who legitimately had nothing to do with this,” Schiepisi said.

In December, the committee released an interim report saying it couldn’t determine if Christie was or wasn’t involved. The report also notes that because “several critical witnesses” have not testified, the record of the incident “remains incomplete and leaves several important questions unanswered.”

With the indictment filed, Weinberg said, she may want to recall some of those witnesses “who weren’t as cooperative before.”

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Schepisi-Handlin comment on GWB scandal probe

Holly Schepisi

Amy Handlin

Bergen Record -

Hearing that former Port Authority officials and a top deputy to Governor Christie allegedly caused widespread traffic jams in 2013 by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge was “sickening,” said the state lawmakers leading a separate investigation into the scandal.

But it was also a reminder, some lawmakers said, that there is more work for them to do.

But it was unclear on Friday how the Select Committee on Investigation would proceed, and a Republican member of the panel said it should stay on the sidelines while the federal charges play out. Otherwise, she said, legislative proceedings could turn into a “witch hunt.”

“To what end is our panel going to do anything?” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-River Vale.

David Wildstein, formerly a top executive and Christie ally in the Port Authority, said that the traffic jams on five weekday mornings were done by closing access lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee. Wildstein pleaded guilty to two charges in the case in federal court in Newark.

A Republican member of the legislative committee, Assemblywoman Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth, agreed on that point.

“It’s so painfully obvious that until we can identify the clowns, then the Port Authority is going to continue to be a circus,” she said.

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Bramnick makes annual trip to Millington School to give lesson in government

Source: New Jersey Hills – A Millington School lesson in government got a whole lot more official on Thursday, April 23.

Assemblyman Jon Bramnick, R-Somerset, Union, Morris, visited Millington School to give a lesson on the branches of state government, ahead of the school’s June 10 field trip to Trenton.

Jon Bramnick

Bramnick’s spirited attitude, and constant search for volunteers among the fourth grade crowd, turned a normal government history lesson into an interactive experience.

Every student was involved, as they were split up as the New Jersey General Assembly, the New Jersey Senate, and three children got to play the governor and two State Trooper bodyguards, respectively. Bramnick even threw lobbyist actors into the mix to make the lesson really Trenton-like…

“You can sit in a classroom and study facts. You can look up facts. What I want to do is make people think. If they interact and have to be part of something, they remember it,” said Bramnick in an interview after the assembly.

Bramnick’s next progression was to ask the students to create laws that they could pitch to the Assembly, Senate, and governor…

“This is a combination of visual thinking, analytical thinking, and factual thinking,” said Bramnick, who was a teacher for four years.

Bonnie Plotkin, the second grade teacher who invited Bramnick to the school, enjoys his performance every year. “This is a great way for the kid to learn, because he is a very engaging guy,” she said.

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Rumpf, Gove slam CRDA plan for summer poetry readings

Source: Press of Atlantic City -

DiAnne Gove

Brian Rumpf

Quoth the lawmakers, “Nevermore!”

Calling it the “absolute height of absurdity,” three New Jersey lawmakers criticized a state agency Thursday for its plan to spend redevelopment funds for summer poetry readings in Atlantic City.

The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, which oversees tourism and redevelopment projects in Atlantic City, is seeking proposals from poets who would be part of the entertainment lineup at a farmers market this summer in the resort town.

State Sen. Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove issued a statement blasting the poetry readings as a waste of money, especially at a time when Atlantic City continues to struggle with a municipal financial crisis and four casino closings last year that cost 8,000 workers their jobs.

“As the saying goes, Nero fiddled while Rome burned. Only in the case of Atlantic City, poetry will be read in the midst of a different kind of crisis — a fiscal and economic crisis,” the statement said.

The Press of Atlantic City reported Tuesday on the CRDA’s intention to hire a poet or poets to perform from July to September at a farmers market the agency sponsors each summer in Atlantic City. A CRDA spokeswoman said the poetry readings would add to the mix of entertainment and music at the market.

Just how much it would cost the CRDA for poetry readings won’t be known until a poet is selected. Poets are required to submit a fee schedule with their proposals, which are due to CRDA by May 7.

Connors, Rumpf and Gove, Republican lawmakers who represent parts of Ocean, Atlantic and Burlington counties, argued that redevelopment funds could be devoted for better uses, including their proposal for a full interchange to link the Garden State Parkway’s Exit 40 with Route 30 in Galloway Township.

They want to see the Atlantic City-only restriction for CRDA funds lifted so the agency can help redevelop Galloway Township and other surroundings communities.

“Highly questionable expenditures have only eroded the argument that CRDA funds should be restricting to the city. Unquestionably, constructing a full interchange at Exit 40 is a far more effective use of limited resources than poetry readings, pirate art or language classes,” the lawmakers said, referring to other cultural projects in Atlantic City funded by the authority.

Connors, Rumpf and Gove have sponsored legislation tailor-made for the construction of a full interchange at Exit. 40. Their bills, pending in both houses of the Legislature, would allow CRDA funds to be used for the improvement of any highway with direct access to Atlantic City within a 15-mile radius of the city’s Tourism District.

The CRDA oversees the Tourism District, a wide swath of Atlantic City that includes the casino zones, the beaches and the Boardwalk. The agency uses funds collected from a 1.25 percent reinvestment tax on casino revenue for housing projects, economic development and to promote tourism.

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Munoz on Vaccinations: U.S. headed in wrong direction

Source: Newsworks - Critics of vaccine mandates often argue that these directives are unneeded, citing a statistic that only 1.7 percent of New Jersey schoolchildren claim religious exemptions from immunizations. But an NJ Spotlight analysis of school statistics reveals that while a majority are in almost total compliance, there are hundreds of schools with high rates of religious exemptions.

Nancy Munoz

Public-health advocates say this is a problem because the lower the vaccination rate in a given school or neighborhood, the higher the risk that a disease will spread. In order to avoid an outbreak like the one that occurred with measles in California this winter, these advocates want to change state law to make it harder for families to claim religious exemptions…

Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz (R-Morris, Somerset, and Union), an advanced practice nurse whose professional career started in 1976, said she’s concerned that the very success of vaccinations in reducing deadly infectious diseases in the United States is leading to opposition to vaccines.

“If Bill Gates is willing to spend $2 billion of his personal money to immunize … the people of Africa, and we’re going to go the opposite direction … the message is wrong,” Munoz said. “And it’s because they simply haven’t seen the diseases. We have. I have.”

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