Source: The Star-Ledger -
The state Assembly has changed its attendance rules, a few months after several lawmakers found out from The Star-Ledger that they were marked as present at the Statehouse on a Friday evening in July when they were nowhere near it.
“When you have a citizen Legislature and need to do routine things like introduce bills so committees can hear them and debate them, it just seems like an anachronism to bring everybody down there and have a quorum. Let’s all just consent, either in person or by telephone, and they can go about their routine business.” – Assemblyman Jay Webber
A resolution (AR166) that was hastily introduced and immediately passed by a vote of 72-0 on Monday will allow members to use phones, email and possibly other devices to give their consent to be marked as present in order to form a quorum — or a majority of members — so they can conduct “routine business” like introducing bills or laying constitutional amendment resolutions on members’ desks.
“This resolution recognizes the current common use of communication equipment that did not exist in 1947 when the Constitution was adopted and provides clarity,” it reads. “It also maintains transparency in the legislative process and requires the direct consent of at least 41 members of the General Assembly, present within the State of New Jersey, for the conduct of routine business.”
Members who attend committee meetings at the Statehouse on quorum days will also be automatically considered present, without having to walk to their desks and press a button.
The resolution was sponsored by Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) and Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris), and came about two weeks after Webber introduced a similar resolution.
Webber had been one of 70 Assembly members who were marked as present in order to form a quorum at 5pm on July 11. But only one member — Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer) — actually showed up to the Assembly chamber that evening.
Webber and several other Assembly members called by The Star-Ledger that night said they had no idea they were marked present.
The quorum was necessary to get the clock ticking on a constitutionally-mandated 20-day waiting period for a proposed constitutional amendment to allow judges to deny bail to some defendants.
In a phone interview earlier this month, Webber said members should have to consent to be marked present, but requiring them to actually go to Trenton for the purpose is outdated.
“When you have a citizen Legislature and need to do routine things like introduce bills so committees can hear them and debate them, it just seems like an anachronism to bring everybody down there and have a quorum,” Webber said. “Let’s all just consent, either in person or by telephone, and they can go about their routine business.”
Assembly members will still have to be present to vote on legislation.
According to the resolution, the use of electronic equipment to attend a meeting is already permitted under the Open Public Meetings Act.