Category: Clips

Schepisi on NJTV – Judge Agrees to Re-Sentence Juvenile Given 75-Year Punishment

Source: NJTV

When James Comer and two accomplices went on an armed robbery spree 15 years ago, one of the other robbers shot and killed a father of three because the man didn’t have any money to take. Comer was 17 years and 3 months old — still a juvenile by law — but tried as an adult and convicted of several of those violent crimes…Comer’s attorneys don’t make any argument about his guilt or innocence. They say the record is well established on that. Their concern was he was a juvenile 17 years and 3 months old at the time and that should have been factored into his punishment.

“So does this now start to maybe open up a slippery slope that somebody who’s 18 can argue

Holly Schepisi

‘well, I why was someone who was 17 years of age and three or four months able to have their sentence re-looked at and I’m only 18 and why can’t I have my sentence re-looked at as well?’”

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Fiocchi takes on theft — of lawmakers’ bills

Star Ledger -

In school, copying a classmate’s work will get you an F — or even expelled.

But in the state Assembly and state Senate, different lawmakers — sometimes, but not always, from different parties — often introduce bills that are remarkably similar to ones that have already been introduced.

Now one Assemblyman wants to change that.

Sam Fiocchi

Sam Fiocchi

“You have too much duplication here with the bills. It slows the process. You have added expense. So to me, the idea is we need to work together,” said Assemblyman Sam Fiocchi (R-Cumberland). “This way it promotes collaboration.”

Fiocchi, a freshman lawmaker, on Thursday introduced a resolution (AR235) that would change Assembly rules to bar members from putting forward “identical or substantially similar” bills or resolution to ones already introduced.

The only exception would be if the original prime sponsor gives permission or if at least 60 members vote to allow the introduction

But while it’s common in the Statehouse to hear lawmakers grumbling about others “stealing” their bills, Fiocchi wouldn’t characterize it that way.

“I come from the private sector. We had a goal, you got it done,” Fiocchio said. “Everybody worked together as a team. That was the purpose of my bill. It’s a positive bill to me.”

Even though he’s only in his first term, Fiocchi has had it happen to him.

For instance, in January 2014 he was one of three prime sponsors of a proposed constitutional amendment (ACR12) that would “preserve right of people to fish, hunt, trap and harvest fish and wildlife.” Eleven months later, Assemblyman Bob Andrzejack (D-Cape May) — who represents the same district as Fiocchi and will be running on a ticket against him in November — proposed a nearly identical resolution (ACR210). (The resolution has been kicking around the Legislature for several sessions, and had been introduced by their district’s state senator, Jeff Van Drew, so neither can claim to have sponsored the original one).

In September 2014, Fiocchi was the first prime sponsor on a resolution honoring the Coast Guard (AR152). Three months later, Andrzejczak was the first prime sponsor on a nearly identical resolution (AJR100).

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Auth supports efforts by mother of murdered Hillsdale girl to expand parole ban

Source: Bergen Record -

Since her daughter Joan was raped and murdered more than 40 years ago, Rosemarie D’Alessandro of Hillsdale has devoted her life to preserving Joan’s memory and promoting harsh justice for anyone found guilty of a similar crime.

Her most significant achievement was pushing for New Jersey’s adoption in 1997 of Joan’s Law, which denies parole to anyone serving a life sentence for molesting and killing a child under age 14. For the past three years she has been lobbying lawmakers in Trenton to raise the age to 18 so all minors are protected under the law. She has collected more than 2,000 signatures in support of the measure, which, despite bipartisan support, appears to have stalled in the Legislature.

Robert Auth

Robert Auth

 

“I don’t know if [this bill] slipped through the cracks, but I’m hoping some of the recent action will put some light on this. I’m cautiously optimistic at this point. … I’ve got skin in the game here; it’s specific to our district and it’s specific to me. The age of 14 strikes me as arbitrary; it really should be 18.” – Assemblyman Robert Auth

 

Joan D’Alessandro was 7 years old when she disappeared on April 19, 1973, while she was delivering her last two boxes of Girl Scout cookies to a neighbor. Her body was found three days later, on Easter Sunday, in Harriman State Park in New York. The neighbor, Joseph McGowan, a 26-year-old chemistry teacher at the time, pleaded guilty in 1974 to first-degree murder, admitting that he abducted, raped and strangled Joan, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Joan’s Law could not be applied retroactively to McGowan. Rosemarie D’Alessandro has testified against McGowan at four parole hearings, a painful exercise that she wants the parents of other young victims to avoid. He is next eligible in May 2027.

So far, 17 members of the Assembly have sponsored or co-sponsored the bill to amend Joan’s Law, including Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Old Tappan, who was 17 when Joan was killed.

“I don’t know if [this bill] slipped through the cracks, but I’m hoping some of the recent action will put some light on this,” Auth said. “I’m cautiously optimistic at this point.”

Auth said he vividly remembers searching for Joan’s body as a junior fireman in Old Tappan.

“I’ve got skin in the game here; it’s specific to our district and it’s specific to me,” he said. “The age of 14 strikes me as arbitrary; it really should be 18.”

Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Demarest, said that Joan’s Law as it is currently written “sets the target too low” and that he hopes the Senate Judiciary Committee will soon hold a hearing on the bill to amend it.

“Frankly I don’t know that we should have any limit in age,” he said. “It’s obvious that society is much safer if these kinds of people are put away and we continue to deny parole.”

Cardinale said that if the Assembly approves the bill, that could spur action in the Senate.

“If it passes in the other house … I’m pretty sure I could needle the judiciary chair into getting this on the agenda,” he said.

 

 

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Championed by Asm. Dancer, new law aid districts with military students

Source: Burlington County Times -

Gov. Chris Christie has signed legislation intended to aid school districts with large populations of students from military families.

The bill would permit school districts that receive federal impact aid to establish special reserve accounts to carry over unused funds from one school year to the next.

Ron Dancer

Assemblymen Ronald Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted co-sponsored the legislation and applauded Christie’s action, saying it would help districts’ long-term budget planning and protect the federal investment in education for military families.

“It’s the right thing to do from a moral and economic standpoint,” Dancer said.

Federal impact aid was established in 1950 to support school districts that serve students who live on large federal facilities and whose families pay none of the property taxes that traditionally cover educational expenses.

In Burlington County, Pemberton Township, North Hanover, New Hanover and Northern Burlington County Regional receive impact aid because of their large populations of students who reside on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.

The aid often is crucial to those school districts’ finances to ensure they don’t get shortchanged because of the federal presence.

During the 2013 fiscal year, New Hanover received $2.1 million in impact aid, North Hanover received $7.6 million, Pemberton Township got $1.29 million, and Northern Burlington received $1.48 million.

The legislation specifies that districts can move unused impact aid into a reserve account, separate from the district’s budget surplus or fund balance, which is capped by state law.

Supporters said the accounts can help districts better deal with the volatility of impact aid, which is awarded in the middle of the school year.

The new law also prohibits the state Department of Education from awarding less funding to a school district based on the impact aid the district receives or holds in reserve.

The language addresses an issue that arose in 2010, when Christie slashed $475 million in state aid to districts to help close a more than $2 billion budget deficit.

The reductions were based on the money the districts had in their reserves and surpluses.

Northern Burlington was docked $2.1 million, or roughly 20 percent of the total state aid it was promised. The district appealed the cut, arguing that $1.67 million of its surplus was federal impact aid, and that federal law prohibits states from providing less aid to districts because of the federal aid they receive.

A state appeals court ruled in Northern’s favor, and the Department of Education reimbursed the district the $1.67 million it had withheld.

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O’Scanlon: Blame Legislature, not Christie, for ‘bait and switch’

Source: Asbury Park Press Op-Ed by Declan O’Scanlon -

Declan O'Scanlon

The May 7 editorial chastised the Christie administration for what it referred to as a “bait and switch” regarding the administration’s budgeting some of the open space acquisition funding authorized last year to pay salaries of park workers. On the surface this seems like a reasonable gripe.

But when one digs further it becomes evident that the real offense wasn’t committed by the administration. It was committed by the legislative sponsors of the initiative authorizing the referendum in the first place.

In fact, if we are going to be honest, the problem is all of us. For decades we’ve been spending money we don’t have on lots of great-sounding things — from open space acquisition, to educational initiatives, to promises made to our public employees.

Our political leaders of both parties have been all too happy to abdicate their responsibility to tell the truth (which would entail their explaining that we simply can’t afford all the wonderful things we might want) in exchange for votes. Those would be our votes — the ones we have been happy to deliver to those promising us we can have all the things we want — despite the fact that we should know better. These are the actions that, shovelful by shovelful, have dug the deep budgetary hole in which we now find ourselves.

The first try at an open space funding idea floated by the legislative sponsors was to redirect “already collected sales tax.” This was simply rhetorical and mathematical sleight-of-hand since every penny of the sales tax was already dedicated to other areas of the budget. The legislative sponsors simply didn’t have the guts to either make the legitimate hard choices that would be required to fund open space — or say “no, sorry, we simply can’t afford it.” This first effort was derailed by an encouragingly bipartisan group of us who wouldn’t tolerate such blatant pandering.

The revised effort seemed more responsible — on the surface. It was to be funded by redirecting money from completed or less-important environmental priorities. I heard this both from bill supporters and representatives of the environmental community. But upon digging further, it became evident that the supposed funding adjustments were a sham. It urns out that this was the real bait-and-switch. The bill sponsors knew that the programs that would be defunded couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t be. They designed the legislation to back the administration into a corner. Would the administration defund essential Barnegat Bay water quality funding?

This directly from the recent Press story about the cuts the referendum sponsors put forward:

For example, money dedicated for watershed management and monitoring, such as testing water quality in Barnegat Bay and monitoring shellfish waters, streams and aquifers, drops from $16 million under the old formula to $5.6 million in the coming year. The dedication for staffing cleanup of polluted sites overseen by the DEP drops from $9.6 million to zero.

The new budget puts general taxpayer funds toward those items, to make up for the losses. But the DEP isn’t getting extra money, so it offsets those increases by cutting general taxpayer support for parks and shifting that cost to the corporate-tax money. That helps balance the DEP’s budget, but does so by reducing the money available to buy new fields, farms or historic sites.

“We had to make some tough choices moving this money around to keep … publicly funded cleanups alive and well. That would have killed that program essentially, crippled it dramatically,” DEP Commissioner Bob Martin said.

The referendum bill supporters knew the end result would be messy. And they didn’t have any real answers as to how to pay for open space acquisition, as good a cause as it might be. But they were desperate to pander to those clamoring for a solution. So they punted.

They designed the referendum to make it appear as if they tackled the funding issue when in reality they were leaving it to the governor to magically “find a way” (the three-word mantra of gutless politicians) to come up with the non-existent funds. Those who don’t like the administration’s solution should at least be honest and place blame where it really belongs — the legislators who came up with the non-solution solution and then sold it to voters as if they really accomplished something.

Declan O’Scanlon is a Republican assemblyman whose 13th district covers 16 municipalities in Monmouth County.

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Brown pushes for more oversight of Caesars Entertainment

Source: Press of Atlantic City -

Assemblyman Chris Brown isn’t backing down from his campaign for heightened scrutiny over Caesars Entertainment.

Chris A. Brown

In a letter to New Jersey’s chief casino regulator, Brown urged the state Division of Gaming Enforcement to file suit to overturn deed restrictions fettering Boardwalk properties and to hold a public hearing on the financial health of the casino juggernaut, whose main subsidiary is bankrupt. “The DGE must stop the tail from wagging the dog,” Brown told DGE Director David Rebuck in a letter last week.

For nearly a year Brown has been calling for ramped-up oversight over Caesars, which used deed restrictions to prevent Boardwalk properties it sold from being used as casinos- a move designed to squelch potential competition in an already-saturated Atlantic City gambling market.

Brown, an attorney, says he’s built a legal case to void restrictions on the Claridge, the former Showboat and the former Atlantic Club as adverse to the public interest. For months he’s been asking the state to file suit.

At Showboat, deed restrictions have created an absurd scenario that threatens to scuttle plans by Stockton University to repurpose the building into a college campus. Caesars restricted the property from being used as a casino when it sold Showboat to Stockton in December. Now another casino, Trump Taj Mahal, is trying to enforce a 1988 restriction that Taj says requires the property to be a casino-hotel.

If the state had filed a lawsuit last year, “when I first raise the issue, we would have a ruling and would not be dealing with the restrictive covenant currently being asserted by the Taj Mahal,” Brown’s letter says.

He again asked for the Casino Control Commission to hold a public hearing on the financial health of Caesars, which closed Showboat in August though the resort was still reporting a profit to state regulators.

The lawmaker is concerned that the company’s local operations will suffer as its bankrupt subsidiary, which operates two Boardwalk casinos, restructures $18.4 billion in debt.

Bally’s, considered Caesars’ weakest Atlantic City property, could be left to languish, he said.

“A hearing can determine if Caesars has the financial ability to invest in Bally’s to maintain the high standards set by the Casino Control Act, so it does not end up like Trump Plaza – out of date, out of time, and out of business,” his letter says.

Caesars Entertainment CEO Gary Loveman steps down from that post next month. He’ll be replaced by former Hertz chief Mark Frissora, a specialist in operations who’s known for sweeping cost-cutting campaigns.

Frissora will try to shore-up a global casino empire that was rocked by a double-whammy when the Great Recession set in as the casino market became increasingly crowded with competition.

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Route 15 designated Robert Littell highway

Daily Record -

Route 15 in Sussex County has been designated the “Sen. Robert E. Littell Memorial Highway” in honor of the former state legislator, who died last year.

Gov. Chris Christie signed into law Monday the legislation that honors the late District 24 legislator and Sussex County native who served in the state Assembly and Senate for 40 years.

While in the legislature, Littell assisted in opening two centers for child-abuse victims and sponsored legislation that led to the creation of the Commission on Open Space, the formation of the Garden State Preservation Trust, the preservation of Sterling Forest, and the establishment of the Farmland Preservation Program.

Upon his retirement in 2008 he was the longest serving member of the legislature. He died in November of last year.

Parker Space

“Sen. Littell was dedicated not only to the constituents he represented, but all of New Jersey,” said Assemblyman Parker Space, who sponsored the bill in the state Assembly.

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Bramnick helps NJ League of Municipalities celebrate centennial

Source: NJTV News -

Few organizations get the honor of holding a centennial celebration. Let alone an organization created to bring municipalities and their local leaders together in a bipartisan way in a highly partisan state.

“It plays a critical role so that we get feedback from the local government on the things that we do because a lot of times you do legislation you think could be perfect, it could be very flawed and you don’t know it,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Jon Bramnick

 

“They normally have voting, they have policy people and they come to us and say this is what we need at the local level,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

 

 

“So a lot of things have happened here in the last 100 years and we’ve needed a lot of help in each of our municipalities we’ve grown exponentially. And the league has brought this all together,” said Lieutenant Gov. Kim Guadagno.

Many of the state’s most prominent leaders came out to mark the milestone and honor the man who’s been at the helm of the League of Municipalities for 41 years.

“A hundred years of helping you get your message across to Trenton,” said former Gov. Christie Whitman.

“I am humbled by the turnout here this evening and it’s bittersweet. I mean I’ve spent my entire professional career with the League of Municipalities,” said Bill Dressel.

Dressel announced he’d retire from the position several months ago. His name and face have become synonymous with the organization. As NJTV’s Michael Aron — who emceed the event — noted.

“When this organization was founded, Bill was just in kindergarten I think,” Aron said.

“As mayor of Woodbridge and as governor, there are few people who have been as dogged and committed to enabling mayors to do the things they need to do,” said former Gov. Jim McGreevey.

The role of the League of Municipalities is a fine balancing act, working with the governor, legislators and the 565 municipalities and mayors it represents.

It began in 1915 with just 51 charter member municipalities and its importance has grown as had the number of towns.

“They normally have voting, they have policy people and they come to us and say this is what we need at the local level,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

“Probably one of the most important thing the League has been involved in is making local government more efficient and more effective using the same or less resources,” said Mike Darcy.

After four decades of shifting state policies and government, Dressel said our problems haven’t changed much.

“Quite frankly is property tax relief. I spent 41 years trying to achieve broad based property tax relief for the citizens and taxpayers of this state and it’s a bear. I’m still hopeful that is going to be achieved at some point in time,” Dressel said.

So are the people of New Jersey.

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Assembly Republicans discuss gov’s relationship with lawmakers

The relationship between Gov. Chris Christie and the Democrat-led Legislature has had its highs and lows since the Republican took office in 2010.

Now, little more than a week after the U.S. attorney charged two former Christie allies with orchestrating lane closures at the George Washington Bridge for political purposes, the scandal has cemented Democrats’ skepticism of the governor. Some Republicans also are openly criticizing him, though many focus on how his support has helped their constituents.

Lawmakers from both parties say the scandal could have some political effect in November but don’t think it will play into budget negotiations underway.

Jon Bramnick

Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, though, called the criticism a “sideshow” and says Democrats would be bashing the governor even if the scandal had not occurred. Republican state Sen. Steve Oroho also had praise for Christie, saying he helped lower costs on schools in his rural district.

Not all Republicans, though, give Christie glowing reviews.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll said he was not happy with Christie for vetoing a bill to overhaul the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Michael Patrick Carroll

“His philosophy has always been we should work together as a party when we can,” he said. “But there will be times when we will disagree.”

Bramnick, though, is embracing Christie. The governor will attend a fundraiser at Bramnick’s house next month, the legislator said, adding that there is no Assembly Republican who wouldn’t want the governor’s campaign help.

Christie sees the relationship between his office and lawmakers as strong. Spokeswoman Nicole Sizemore pointed to new laws, such as an overhaul of the bail system and economic development measures, as signs of that.

Christie and the Legislature are still finding common ground. Last week, the governor signed 19 new bills into law. The measures include a new law banning the practice known as “coal rolling” – or retrofitting vehicles’ exhausts or smokestacks so they emit darker smoke. The new law was lauded by environmental groups, usually critical of Christie.

Legislators in both parties say that despite the friction they have seen no evidence the scandal is affecting budget talks.

Christie and lawmakers have to resolve their differences by June 30, when the fiscal year ends and the current budget lapses.

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Kean bill would punish endangering mentally incapacitated

Source: Asbury Park Press -

Sean Kean

Responding to stories in the Asbury Park Press of an autistic Howell man coaxed into jumping off a jetty in February, Assemblyman Sean Kean has introduced legislation that would make it a crime to entice someone with mental difficulties to do something that is likely to injure them.

Kean, a Republican representing portions of Monmouth and Ocean counties, introduced the bill on Thursday.

He said the bill was crafted after he read articles in the Asbury Park Press about an incident involving Parker Drake, a 19-year-old Howell man with autism who was encouraged by two other Howell men to jump into the freezing ocean in February from the Manasquan jetty.

According to Drake, the two men, Christopher Tilton, 19, and Nicholas Formica, 20, offered him $20 and two packs of cigarettes to take the plunge on Feb. 25, when the ocean temperature was 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Kean said the event was even more disturbing because the two men made a video of Drake struggling in the rough surf to swim to shore, and the video was later posted on social media.

“This terrible situation and the callous acts of these two men demonstrated the need for this legislation,” Kean said in a news release. “It is not acceptable to lure a person to put themselves in harm’s way, especially if that person is mentally incapacitated and may not understand the situation or the person’s intentions. Enticing a person to do something that could harm or kill them is terrible, but to do this to a person who may not understand the situation is malicious, and it should be a fourth-degree crime.”

Drake’s mother, Christine Marshall, said her son, who also is diabetic, could have died that day, either from drowning, hypothermia or because the pump that delivers needed insulin to his body froze when he was in the ocean.

But acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni declined to file criminal charges against Tilton and Formica, saying the behavior did not fit any crime.

As a result, Marshall signed complaints against the pair in Manasquan Municipal Court charging them with endangering the welfare of a mentally incompetent person, which is a disorderly persons offense carrying a maximum penalty of six months in jail. The charges are pending.

Kean said he asked Gramiccioni for input on his bill, which would make it a crime for a person who knows or reasonably should know that another person is mentally incapacitated to lure or entice that person to commit an act that is reasonable likely to cause injury to his or her physical, mental or moral welfare. The crime would be punishable by up to 18 months in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

Jack Ciattarelli

The bill defines mental incapacitation as “that condition in which a person is rendered temporarily or permanently incapable of understanding or controlling one’s conduct, or of appraising or controlling one’s condition.” Incapacitation includes but is not limited to an inability to comprehend one’s own peril, according to the bill.

Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, a Republican representing portions of Mercer and Somerset counties, has co-sponsored the bill, said Matthew Woolley. The bill will now be referred to a committee, he said.

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