Tag: Holly Schepisi

Bill Allowing Unauthorized Residents Driver’s Licenses Comes at Unfortunate Time


Hundreds chanted in Spanish at the War Memorial and marched through Trenton for the right to get a New Jersey driver’s license — even though they’re in the U.S. without the proper documents. They testified before the Assembly Homeland Security Committee. Carla Estrada talked about spending hours on the bus.

Sponsors say a driver’s license could enhance the lives of more than 450,000 undocumented people who live and work in New Jersey. About a dozen states already already offer the privilege — and, like the California version — would be restricted to state use only with a printed warning: “Federal Limits May Apply.”

But in the wake of attacks by ISIS terrorists in Paris, the proposed license legislation encountered stiff resistance.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“If you look at just what happened around the world, TSA confirmed that those licenses could be utilized to get on airplanes. That was just in the last few months. There are a lot of things that do impact on national security issues,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.

Governor Christie issued a statement condemning the bill, saying to give “…the most important piece of Homeland Security identification…to people with no definitive proof of their identity…in the current environment is not only irresponsible, but dangerous.”

The governor flatly stated, if this bill ever gets to his desk, he will veto it “immediately.” With Republican lawmakers also expressing deep concerns, this driver’s license proposal faces a very difficult road.

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Schepisi raises issues on bill to give unauthorized immigrants N.J. driver’s licenses

Star Ledger -

A controversial bill that would allow unauthorized immigrants in New Jersey to obtain a state driver’s license moved forward Monday — despite a rare proclamation from Gov. Chris Christie that he would veto the legislation if it reaches his desk.

The state Assembly’s homeland security committee voted 3-2 along party lines to approve the measure (A4425), which would establish a license for residents who cannot prove they are living in the U.S. legally.

Hundreds of people rallied at the Statehouse in Trenton to support the bill, and advocates for both sides debated its merits for hours in front of the committee.

In a highly unusual move, Christie — a Republican presidential candidate — issued a statement in the middle of the hearing saying he is “disturbed” that the Democratic-controlled state Legislature is “even considering the bill.”

“As a former United States Attorney, I know that the driver’s license is the single most important piece of homeland security identification,” Christie said. “Yet, the Legislature proposes giving that to people with no definitive proof of their identity. To consider doing this in the current environment is not only irresponsible, but dangerous.”

“If it were to ever reach my desk, it would be vetoed immediately,” he added.

The bill seeks to have New Jersey join 12 states and Washington D.C. who already have laws allowing unauthorized immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

More than half a million residents — or about one in every 20 people — in New Jersey are unauthorized immigrants. And supporters of the measure say many of them drive without taking a test to get a license, registration, and insurance.

Critics, however, said even if unauthorized immigrants are allowed licenses, that doesn’t mean they will obtain insurance.

They also argued that enacting the legislation compromises New Jersey’s security — especially in the wake of the Paris attacks, in which authorities say one of the attackers used a fake Syrian passport to enter Europe.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“This is one of my biggest, grave concerns — particularly with what’s going on in the world right now — that we’re providing a document,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen), one of the two Republicans on the panel who voted against advancing the bill. “With a driver’s license, you can do more than just drive. You can purchase a firearm in pretty much every state. You can board an airplane. You can open bank accounts.”

Schepisi said she doesn’t want New Jersey to send a message saying, “Okay, if you don’t have driving privileges, and if you are here illegally, come to New Jersey and you can get all these things.”

Instead, Schepisi said, the bill should be amended to include steps to make it safer — including fingerprinting applicants, setting up a waiting period, and requiring people to prove they’ve been living in New Jersey for a substantial amount of time.

Pat DeFilippis of Toms River had a similar view.

“There’s terrorists, and we don’t know who they are and where they come from,” DeFilippis told the panel, “and we’re going to give licenses to people who don’t belong in this country in the first place? Why are we pandering to people who don’t belong here?”

Under the bill, applicants would have to be able to prove their identity, date of birth, and residency in New Jersey. If they can’t, they would have to obtain alternative documents that would be reviewed by the state Motor Vehicle Commissions. Those residents would have to pay as much as $50 more for the license on top of the usual fees.

Quijano said the measure would also require that the licenses specify that they are valid only for driving and they would not be considered federal IDs.

Carla Estrada, 24, of Pennsauken, said when she was a student at Camden County College, she spent about six hours commuting on buses for a simple reason: Her parents are unauthorized immigrants, and they would not drive her 30 minutes to campus out of fear they stopped by police and deported.

“In a week, I would spend up to 24 hours on the bus instead of doing something more productive, like going to my job and earning more hours, so I could help pay for my college,” said Estrada, who has since gained legal status under an executive order by President Obama.

The bill now advances to the Assembly’s appropriations committee.

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Schepisi expresses concerns on bill creating licenses for those without legal status

Bergen Record -

Before an Assembly committee even voted on a proposal Monday to allow undocumented immigrants to get a New Jersey driver’s license, Governor Christie vowed “it would be vetoed immediately” if it reached his desk.

The Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness is hearing testimony on the bill Monday afternoon. It would allow undocumented residents to obtain a driver’s license as long as they satisfy the state’s requirements for providing proof of residency, date of birth and proof of identity.

Bill sponsors and supporters see the bill as a public safety measure and a revenue-generator because thousands of immigrants are already driving the state’s roads, but illegally, without insurance and registration, they said.

But critics say the license could compromise safety and security, a worry that’s been heightened in the wake of last weekend’s terrorist attacks in Paris. The attacks were carried out by citizens of France and Belgium and, according to authorities, one individual who entered Europe through Greece on a Syrian passport.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“This is one of my biggest, grave concerns, particularly with what’s going on in the world right now,” she said. “With the driver’s license you can do more than just drive,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-River Vale.

Regardless of the details, its fate appears doomed. Twenty minutes into Monday’s hearing, in which dozens of speakers filled a state house meeting room, Christie, who typically does not comment on pending legislation, issued a statement.

“I am disturbed by the Legislature even considering making undocumented individuals eligible for New Jersey driver’s licenses. As a former United States Attorney, I know that the driver’s license is the single most important piece of homeland security identification. Yet, the Legislature proposes giving that to people with no definitive proof of their identity,” Christie said in a statement. “To consider doing this in the current environment is not only irresponsible, but dangerous. If it were to ever reach my desk, it would be vetoed immediately. Protecting the security of the people of New Jersey is the governor’s single most important responsibility.”

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Mountains to climb: Schepisi tells of her road back after brain aneurysm

Source: Bergen Record -

On a Saturday in March, Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi felt her left arm go numb. It was cold out, and she’d just given a speech at a rally to oppose oil trains crossing the Oradell Reservoir. Soon she felt like her tongue was swelling. She quietly excused herself.

At home, she felt “as if the synapses in my brain were misfiring,” she said. It was like “someone was pressing Bubble Wrap in my brain.” As she sat with her young son, her left side went numb.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi



“To be able to stand here in front of you is nothing short of a miracle.” – Asw. Holly Schepisi



“I felt like I was in the movie ‘The Matrix,’ popping in and out of reality,” she said. She jumped out of her chair. “Something is really wrong,” she told her husband.

But then her cellphone rang: Their 11-year-old daughter needed a ride home. Schepisi’s husband couldn’t drive because he’d just had shoulder surgery to fix a recent skiing injury. She calmed herself and set out.

Inside a coffee shop in Westwood a few minutes later with Kayla and her friend, the symptoms returned. “I don’t want to scare you,” she told the girls, “but I’m going to drop you off at the end of the driveway. Tell Daddy that Mommy had to drive herself to the hospital.”

Minutes later, Schepisi walked into the emergency room, and told the nurse, “I’m fairly certain I’m having a stroke.”

Within the hour, she was diagnosed with a probable brain aneurysm.

And just like that, Schepisi’s life changed course.

An aneurysm, a bulge in a blood vessel in the brain, can burst without warning and cause death or devastating brain damage. Schepisi faced a serious medical problem and risky |surgery.

Her treatment offers a close-up view of modern medicine at work, from the initial live-action video of her brain’s blood flow to the microscopically guided clipping, through a hole in the skull, of her ballooning artery. Schepisi, 43, knows that “on the lucky spectrum” she’s off the charts: After her brain surgery, she has no complications. She has returned to work full time, run an active political campaign and — as of last week — been reelected to a third term in the Legislature.

But that luck came with a price — a financial one.

As she dealt with her medical expenses, she needed all the skills she uses as a lawyer to navigate the billing maze: untangling what was charged and what was owed, what was in-network and what was out-of-network, what was her insurer’s responsibility and what was her own. It hasn’t been easy.

Unlike other patients, though, she is a lawmaker.

Looking back, Schepisi realizes she ignored her symptoms for too long.

The daughter of a well-known Bergen County Republican, John Schepisi, she keeps a crowded calendar. There are the kids, Kayla and Easton, who is 4; her law practice; and the duties of representing the 39th District, which includes her hometown of River Vale and 22 other municipalities in northern Bergen and Passaic counties.

A few days before she went to the ER in March, she’d been at the hairdresser’s, tilted back in the chair to have her thick blond hair washed, when she felt as if she’d been zapped by a stun gun, she said. She snapped up.

“I felt this shooting-like boom through my head, through my body,” she said. “I had hot and then cold flushes go through my entire system — and saw literally, lights flashing in front of me. I almost blacked out.” For the rest of the day, she was exhausted: “It almost felt like I had had a seizure.”

The following day she was driving to Trenton when “the synapses in my brain started to misfire.” In a fog, she asked a staffer to talk to her on the phone until she got to the next rest area. She kept on to the State House, then later drove to a political event in Oakland, followed by a Planning Board meeting in Rockleigh. There, she said, she felt her speech was slurred “like I was intoxicated, but I’d had nothing to drink.”

By the time she got home, it was late. “I must have just fallen asleep [when] I went flying out of the bed,” she recalled. Her husband asked what was going on. She asked if he’d heard the gunshot.

“‘Gunshot?’” he said. “‘Honey, we live in suburban River Vale, New Jersey. There was no gunshot.’”

But to Schepisi, it had “sounded like a gunshot went off in my head.”

She went back to bed, praying “as I went back to sleep that I would wake up the next morning.”

To Dr. Reza Karimi, a neurosurgeon who treated Schepisi at Hackensack University Medical Center, it sounded like she was describing “sentinel headaches.”

“We think that type of headache — a thunderclap headache, the sudden worst headache of your life — is a warning sign for a rupture” of a brain aneurysm, Karimi said. About one in four will go on to rupture within the next few weeks or months, he said, citing studies.

One in 50 people — 6 million in the United States — has a brain aneurysm that hasn’t ruptured, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Most will never cause problems, but about 30,000 people a year experience a potentially catastrophic blowout: 40 percent of those patients will die and 15 percent never even make it to a hospital.

Aneurysms start as a weakness in the wall of an artery that supplies blood to the brain. When the bump starts, it’s the size of a pimple. Then it begins to bulge. With each pulsation of blood into the brain, the stress on the artery causes the wall of the aneurysm to thin out. Most inflate like a berry or balloon. When they burst, blood flows into the brain.

The first task of the doctors treating Schepisi was to get a detailed picture of her aneurysm’s size and shape. Karimi threaded a narrow catheter through the big artery in Schepisi’s right leg, up through her aorta and into the carotid artery in her neck to perform a brain angiogram. Through the catheter’s soft tip, Karimi injected a dye into the blood vessels, then watched on eight monitors as the dye pulsed through the network of plumbing to create a real-time map of the brain’s blood flow. It took about an hour.

Schepisi, lightly sedated, felt a fluttering inside her head as they worked.

“It wasn’t painful. It was uncomfortable at times,” she said. “They needed me to react and talk and hold my breath.”

She also heard everything that was being said — including the physician’s statement that “we can’t do it.”

What he couldn’t do was fix her aneurysm with this inside-the-artery — or endovascular — approach. He and other surgeons who treat aneurysms are able to use a catheter in about 85 percent of cases to place tiny platinum coils inside the aneurysm, inducing clots that plug it up. But the images of Schepisi’s aneurysm revealed an oddly shaped bulge with two domes at the main branching of the mid-cerebral artery. Its thick neck meant that placing a coil there would be dangerous and not completely seal it. Instead, the aneurysm would have to be clipped from outside the artery — and that meant open surgery, through a hole in her skull.

The good news — confirmed shortly afterward through a painful spinal tap — was that Schepisi’s aneurysm wasn’t leaking. The bad news: The doctors said she should have surgery as soon as possible.

Schepisi chose a different course — she checked out of the hospital.

She explains it this way: This was major surgery, with significant risk; she’d be out of commission for at least six to eight weeks. “There was a lot going through my head,” she said. “What do I do with my law practice? I have no transition plan. What do I do with my children, who are in school? What do I do with all of the meetings and voting sessions I have coming up in the Legislature? All of a sudden it was, ‘Oh, my gosh, I need some time to get my life in order.’Ÿ”

News spread quickly about her illness. She surprised everyone by showing up two nights later at a campaign fundraiser at the Stony Hill Inn in Hackensack. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who hosted it, told her to go home and get some rest. “I thought it was important that people see I’m doing well,” Schepisi told reporters. “I wanted to come and thank all the people who support me.”

In the photos, she looks delighted to be there.

Over the next weeks, she consulted neurosurgeons around the metro area and considered her options.

She knew her aneurysm was smaller than those that typically rupture. One doctor suggested she could postpone the operation indefinitely as he monitored its size and shape every three months. On the one hand, she knew brain surgery was risky and there was a chance her aneurysm would rupture during the procedure. On the other hand, what if it ruptured spontaneously?

“It’s a very personal decision,” Dr. Robert Solomon, chairman of neurological surgery at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia Medical Center, said in an interview. He has done hundreds of open aneurysm surgeries. “It’s very difficult for somebody to live with a threat like that hanging over her head.”

Schepisi was hospitalized again in May for a digestive problem, then had a scare a day after her discharge. On a conference call while working at home, “all of a sudden I felt myself blacking out,” she said. She hung up to dial 911. Her husband, who’d been fetching Kayla at school, came home to find a clutch of EMTs, his son, and the family dog and cat surrounding his wife, who’d been given oxygen.

“I view it as a sign,” Schepisi said recently. “Somebody was saying, stop screwing around. Pay attention.”

She scheduled the operation for May 26.

There was a lot to be done to get ready: She merged her solo legal practice of 11 years into a group practice in Westwood. She set up spreadsheets of bills to be paid, listed the passwords for her online accounts. “When you’re sitting there and thinking about, what happens to my kids if I don’t make it through, checking your life insurance policies to make sure there’s adequate coverage so that your family can remain in your house if you die — those are very difficult things to get your arms around,” she said.

And she continued to question whether she was doing the right thing.

The operation that Tuesday began with an incision that curved from the hairline at her forehead behind her right ear to the base of her skull. With the scalp pulled back, Solomon drilled through the skull to create a window the size of a silver dollar to the brain.

Solomon worked for 90 minutes in that tiny porthole, viewing it through the high magnification and brilliant light of a 3-D surgical microscope. With the methodical focus of a bomb-disposal expert, he dissected the arachnoid membrane — so named because it resembles a spider’s web — to expose the target blood vessels.

Once the aneurysm was in the open, he carefully placed a clip — essentially a minute, titanium clothespin — around its neck. The blood flow shut down. He pricked the aneurysm, and it collapsed like a balloon.

After an angiogram to check for other aneurysms, Solomon replaced the bone, attaching it with screws. He closed her scalp with some 30 staples and wrapped her head in a tight bandage.

As to whether the surgery was needed, “any second-guessing immediately went out the window,” when the doctor spoke with her afterward, Schepisi said. The aneurysm’s walls actually were thinner than predicted, and it could have ruptured much sooner than anticipated, she said.

Schepisi was walking the hospital hallway the next day, a quick return to activity that Solomon recommends for his patients. One side of her body was stronger than the other, she said, but she managed to climb a few stairs at the hospital. By Thursday night, she was sleeping in her own bed. And the day after that, she took Easton to Van Saun County Park in Paramus.

Mommy was back, albeit with her face slightly swollen.

The calls from collection agencies came even as she lay in the hospital’s neurological intensive care unit.

There were bills from her husband’s shoulder operation, by an out-of-network orthopedic surgeon at an ambulatory surgery center. Schepisi’s plan had out-of-network coverage, but she was shocked at how little her insurer paid.

Then there were bills for her hospital stays, the specialists who had treated her, and the surgery and advanced imaging used in her care. Some physicians billed their higher out-of-network rates even for emergency care where, by regulation, her responsibility could not exceed the amount she would have paid for in-network care. In one case, she said she called to argue that an admission for a brain aneurysm was an emergency, and the bill was corrected.

As the mail came in, she remembers feeling exasperated. “You have no control of any of it,” Schepisi said. “Nor should you have to face thousands and thousands of dollars in bills, with people calling to say, ‘Too bad, suck it up, you have to pay.’”

By June 1, the family’s health care charges topped $250,000. Their out-of-pocket expenses, even with the insurance coverage she carried, exceeded $40,000.

In her law office, she thumped a 3-inch folder of medical bills and “explanation of benefit” forms — along with a few collection notices. “I have seven years of higher education, and I couldn’t figure out what the hell my plan gave me and what it didn’t,” she said. “God forbid, the average person have the back-to-back health [problems] my husband and I did this year. It would bankrupt most people.”

She found the billing and reimbursement system confusing, inconsistent and riddled with errors that unfairly pushed expenses toward her, she said. Fighting such bills is time-consuming, frustrating and often beyond the power of sick and overwhelmed families, she said. Yet the financial consequences are serious and long-lasting.

In September, Schepisi received an alert that her credit score had been lowered because of two supposedly unpaid bills, for $30 and $9.83. A collection agency, acting on behalf of a Westwood medical practice whose doctor had checked on her during a hospital stay, reported the supposed debt to the credit agencies, and her credit score dropped almost 50 points. Schepisi proved with credit card statements that both had been paid in full three months before; the medical practice confirmed she had a zero balance, she said. The erroneous debt was to be removed from her credit report, she was told, but it took three follow-up calls to be sure.

Recovering from brain surgery was challenging, but the maze of bills proved equally daunting. She was responsible for different amounts, depending on whether the care was from an in-network or out-of-network provider. And while there was supposed to be a cap on her out-of-pocket expenses, the insurer didn’t count some of those expenses in that cap.

Schepisi and her family are insured by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey through a small-business policy with a high deductible. Of the family’s $250,066 in health care bills for the first five months of 2015, Horizon determined the “allowable amount” to be $88,503, through a combination of discounts for in-network care and what it considers appropriate for out-of-network care. Based on her policy, the insurer paid $63,472.

Schepisi paid $20,477 in co-insurance and deductibles, according to her records — then paid an additional $24,829 for out-of-network bills.

It all got her to think about what she could do as a legislator to address the problems she was encountering, starting with how little her insurance paid toward her out-of-network bills.

In one example, Horizon determined that the “allowable amount” — the maximum it considered appropriate — for an $8,763 out-of-network bill was $969. The insurer did not tell her how it came up with that amount, or why there was such a big discrepancy. Horizon paid $581 because the policy covers 60 percent for out-of-network care. Yet even though Schepisi ended up paying $8,181, only $388 — the remainder of the allowable amount — counted toward her out-of-pocket maximum.

Thomas Vincz, a Horizon spokes­man, said that Horizon calculates the allowable amount for Schepisi’s specific plan by using the 80th percentile of a “national index for determining the usual and customary out-of-network charges,” known as the Prevailing Healthcare Charges System. It is one of several databases used by the industry to make such computations and is not public. It is reportedly based on the charges submitted to 100 insurers and claims administrators nationwide.

Out-of-network providers, however, are free to bill the patient for the rest of their charges, Vincz said. Those charges don’t count toward the policy’s out-of-pocket maximum, he said, “which is why Horizon always encourages members to seek care from in-network providers.”

Schepisi said that bills from providers are unclear about whether in-network or out-of-network rates are being applied and even what service is being billed. Many patients give up and pay — especially the smaller bills, she said.

“I call it getting ‘twenty-two-dollared’ to death. … You take the path of least resistance and just pay them,” she said. “You have no idea if they’re legitimate. You have no idea who the doctor was. You have no idea if the service was rendered. But you pay them.”

She would like to make it easier for patients to find out ahead of time what their financial responsibility will be. While Horizon officials said they have estimates for out-of-pocket expenses for medical services on their website, allowing consumers to comparison-shop among hospitals and physicians, Schepisi said she found it impossible to get such an estimate when scheduling an out-of-network surgeon for her husband’s shoulder operation.

Schepisi has been something of a secret shopper in the health care maze: She said she rarely invoked her legislative position as she dealt with the bills. And her family can handle the expense without missing a mortgage payment. But “the number of personal bankruptcies and foreclosures and pre-foreclosures in the area I represent is at an all-time high,” she said — and one of the top reasons for personal bankruptcies is medical debt.

Nationwide, more than one-third of Americans — 35 percent — reported having problems paying their medical bills or paying off medical debt in 2014, according to a survey by the Commonwealth Fund. The survey found that 15 percent had been contacted by a collection agency during the previous year because of unpaid medical bills, and 4 percent had been contacted because of a billing mistake.

As a Republican, Schepisi favors a conservative approach to government regulation of business and believes in free-market principles. Yet she is so drawn to this issue she is considering signing on to support a measure sponsored by four Democratic lawmakers to rein in out-of-network charges.

Regardless of party labels, she wants to be careful about unintended consequences. The problems patients encounter under the current system must be addressed, she said, but “we need to make sure we aren’t punishing our health professionals while rewarding the insurance companies.”

She’s involving herself at a time when insurers, health care providers and patient advocates have been in conflict over what to do. Strong pushback from doctors groups and a for-profit hospital chain kept the legislation from moving out of committee in the spring. But the sponsors kept meeting over the summer and said they planned to introduce a revised version, now that Election Day is passed.

The original bill, introduced by Assemblymen Craig Coughlin of Woodbridge, Gary Schaer of Passaic, and Troy Singleton of Mount Laurel and state Sen. Joseph Vitale of Woodbridge, would bar physicians and hospitals from billing a patient more than the in-network rate in an emergency. It would establish binding arbitration when the provider and the insurer disagree about an out-of-network payment, and would create a “health care price index” for the state, requiring insurers to tell how much they pay at in-network rates for their services.

“Sometimes with something of this magnitude you have to take baby steps,” Schepisi said.

It’s not the first time a personal health issue has informed her political agenda. Two years ago, Schepisi worked for passage of a ban on teen use of tanning beds, which she believed caused the melanoma she’d been diagnosed with as a law school student. A small spot on her lower leg turned out to be cancerous, and she had surgery to remove it.

In her own life, Schepisi has made rapid progress from those first steps of post-surgery in the New York hospital — she’s even rappelled down a 10-story building. On a Saturday this fall that was jammed with campaign stops in Ringwood, Mahwah, Wanaque, Haworth and Norwood, she descended the face of a Woodland Park office building on a fixed rope as part of a fundraiser for the Girl Scouts of America.

“I did clear it with my neurosurgeon,” she said. But “it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done.”

When she told the story of her aneurysm to a campaign luncheon gathering of more than 100 women in River Vale recently, four months had passed since the operation.

“To be able to stand here in front of you,” she said, “is nothing short of a miracle.”

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Bramnick and Schepisi talk about aims to override Christie gun bill veto after Election Day

Star Ledger -

The Assembly will wait until after Election Day to try to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of a bill that makes it harder for those with a documented mental illness to purchase a firearm, Democratic leaders told NJ Advance Media Friday.

The lower house vote will determine if Christie, a Republican presidential candidate, will see one of his vetoes turned back by the Legislature for the first time since he took office in 2010.

The state Senate on Thursday voted to override Christie’s veto of the bill as three Republicans broke rank to give Democrats the necessary 27 votes. Six Republican votes in the 80-member Assembly are needed to complete the override.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson) and Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Camden) said the lower house will vote after the Nov. 3 election because they believe Democrats will have a stronger hand then.

Greenwald noted that current polling puts Democrats in a good position the 1st and 2nd districts in south Jersey and an 11th District challenge to incumbents Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande (both R-Monmouth). If Democrats gain seats, Greenwald said Republicans in the Assembly may be more inclined to challenge Christie.

The governor is headlining a $2,600-per-plate breakfast for Angelini and Casagrande in neighboring Somerset County on Monday. “He hasn’t done that for too many people,” said Greenwald.

The bill would require that police be alerted when people seeking a gun permit ask a judge to expunge their commitment to a psychiatric hospital from their record. Christie, vetoed it in August, saying the state needed a more comprehensive approach to mental health.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R- Bergen) a Republican who did not vote on the original gun bill having been hospitalized for emergency brain surgery, said she has not yet decided if she’ll sustain or override the veto.

“Although I like and respect the governor, I’m also a leader, and I’m going to vote the way I want to vote regardless of party,” Schepisi said.

She added that she still needed to examine a compromise bill from state Sen. Tom Kean, Jr. (R-Union).

Jon Bramnick

Republican Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) says he is open to overriding the governor’s veto – provided that Assembly’s Democrats post other bills to move forward, such as reforms to the inheritance and estate tax, pension system and property taxes.

“This is a very narrow, limited bill,” said Bramnick, who is one of the gun bill’s prime sponsors. “I am happy to discuss that with them. There’s going to be some negotiations… I’m going to have some demands from the Democrats.”

However Prieto, is adamant that the gun bill is one piece of legislation on which he will not negotiate.


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Bramnick, Schepisi discuss options for solving Transportation Trust Fund riddle

Source: NJTV News -

It’s the biggest issue nobody seems ready to do anything about. The Transportation Trust Fund, that mechanism for funding bridge and highway maintenance and mass transit projects, is mired in debt and unable to fund much of anything nowadays. But what is this TTF? What was it supposed to do and how did it get so broke. Martin Robbins spent more than a quarter century as a policy planner for the New Jersey Department of Transportation, the Port Authority, NJ Transit and a host of other transportation entities.

“It started off funding about $350 million worth of transportation capital,” he remembered, “and it was a mix of “pay as you go” and a limited amount of bonding and it was supposed to be – and now it seems almost laughable – it was supposed to be self-replenishing, that is, as the bonds would mature, the money that would come in every year from the appropriations would pay off the bonds and we would be able to then using the revenue flow, be able to generate more pay as you go and some more bonding.”

But that was the 80’s, when only about 2 cents of the state’s gas tax was dedicated to the TTF. Today, all of the gas tax goes to the fund but it doesn’t pay for any critically-needed new stuff; it essentially paying the debt that’s been accruing over the years, creating what almost everyone believes is a crisis.

“It’s not a crisis at the moment,” is what governor Christie said in February.

But that is a minority opinion; every lawmaker we talked to for this story says the TTF is one of their biggest concerns. The solution, says Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto – and just about everyone else in Trenton – is an increase in the gas tax.

“The gas tax that I’ve been talking about as a funding source for this has not been raised since 1988,” said Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto. “We are second lowest in the nation; we are some 40 cents cheaper than our surrounding states. Almost 40 percent of it is bought by people out of state – we are a corridor state – and our roads and bridges are in deplorable condition. They need to be fixed and this will help our economy.”

But, this is election season and every seat in the Assembly is up this year, which means that nobody wants to take credit – or blame – for a tax hike. So, nothing on that until after the election. Then, there’s the other side. Republicans, like Transportation Committee Member Holly Schepisi who says a gas tax is something she’s ready to discuss, if it can be revenue neutral.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“If there’s a proposal that gets put on the table that can maybe lessen a burden for the people who I represent, while continuing to fund our projects and our roads and our bridges and tunnels, would I look at it? Absolutely,” she said.

Schepisi and others in her party have called for a cut in the inheritance and estate tax, which would offset the impact of a gas tax increase, a compromise that everyone seems ready to embrace.

Committee Chairman Jon Wisniewski and other Democrats blame Christie – who as a presidential candidate has signed a “no tax” pledge, and threatens a veto of any bill that would raise a gas tax.

Jon Bramnick

Assembly Republican Leader Jon Bramnick says Democrats need to sing a different song.

“Pointing the finger at the governor is just a cop out,” he said. “It does not answer the question of why you haven’t passed the fix for the last 13 years and when you have an opportunity to talk about the majority party, the Democrats, that’s the question to ask them.”

Some sort of compromise is expected on the gas tax. Then voters will be asked to approve a constitutional amendment that puts those funds in a lock box for transportation fixes only. The only question then is how much do you raise the gas tax? 10 cents, 15 cents a gallon? Robins says unless you talk about a 30 cent a gallon increase, you’re just filling a gas tank with a hole in it.

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Schepisi: Englewood Cargo Derailment Raises More Concerns

Assembly Republican Press Release -

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said the public is increasingly concerned about rail safety with news that three train cars carrying non-hazardous cargo derailed in Englewood today. The tracks where the derailment occurred are part of the Northern Branch Corridor, and there have been plans to use the tracks to extend the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, a passenger train.

“While we are thankful the spillage was nonhazardous and no one was hurt, this is one more example of the need to examine rail safety when cargo is transported,” said Schepisi, R-Bergen and Passaic. “Any derailment is a concern, especially when commuters or materials are being moved. This is another wake-up call to the National Transportation Safety Board to exercise extreme diligence in examining existing transport standards and implementing necessary improvements to protect the public and property. The public is at risk when a derailment occurs, regardless of whether the materials are hazardous or not.”

In March, Schepisi expressed her concern when the third crude oil derailment occurred in less than a month. Schepisi restated her support of the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) call for rail companies to limit carrying flammable material on rails by selecting routes that reduce the amount of such materials traveling through populated areas. One of the NTSB’s proposals is a call to select safer transportation routes through less populated areas.

“Fortunately, no injuries or spillage resulted with this incident, but it should sound another wakeup call to the rail industry,” concluded Schepisi.

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Schepisi discusses conflicts in GWB probe

Bergen Record -

A federal judge has postponed until next year the trial of two former associates of Governor Christie’s who have been indicted in the George Washington Bridge scandal, Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly.

U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton said their attorneys have “numerous documents and materials that … require adequate time to review,” according to an order signed Wednesday. U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman’s office and attorneys for Baroni and Kelly jointly requested the delay.

The start date had been scheduled for November but is now set for March 7, nearly two and a half years since the traffic jam in Fort Lee. The delay means Christie, a contender for the Republican presidential nomination, will be able to campaign during a crucial stretch without the backdrop of criminal proceedings involving two former associates in high positions.

The delay further complicates the state Legislature’s ability to revive an investigation into the bridge scandal.

The New Jersey Legislative Select Committee on Investigation, led by Democrats, released an interim report in December that did not find evidence Christie was involved in the lane closures but raised concerns about his administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which runs the bridge.

The legislative committee has since gone on hiatus. A private attorney for the panel has said there is little else to be done “due to the pending criminal investigation(s).”

That attorney, Reid Schar of the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block, sent a letter to the Legislature in March advising that another, unnamed client had received a subpoena from Fishman in a separate matter. Legal experts and state lawmakers said that client most likely was United Continental Holdings, the airline under investigation over its dealings with David Samson, a former chairman of the Port Authority who was appointed by Christie.

United has acknowledged receiving a subpoena from Fishman. Jenner & Block conducted an internal investigation for the airline that led to the resignations of chief executive Jeff Smisek and two vice presidents this week.

In a letter dated March 19, Schar notified the staff directors of the Assembly and Senate that Jenner & Block had “erected an ethical wall” to isolate the two matters: No attorneys working for the Legislature would work for the other client or share any information, he wrote. Schar added that a conflict of interest or the appearance of one could arise in the future and that Jenner & Block may ask to be released from working for the Legislature.

Disagreements among lawmakers could also stump the investigative panel.

Assemblyman John Wisniewski, D-Middlesex, a co-chairman of the committee, said he received a copy of Schar’s letter more than a month after it arrived, on April 29.

In a joint statement, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, both Democrats, said “the letter was addressed to the executive directors who report directly to [us].”

“Since the committee is inactive, the law firm is not performing any new services and there are no plans to expand the investigation, the letter did not raise concern,” they said.

Republican lawmakers on the committee said they only learned of the letter until The Record reported it Friday. Jenner & Block represented New Jersey Democratic officials during previous legislative redistricting battles, posing a potential conflict, GOP lawmakers have said.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“We had clearly raised concerns of conflicts much earlier in the process,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-River Vale, who complained that Democrats previously have withheld documents from Republicans on the committee.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, said that if the committee were to resume its work, it should dismiss Jenner & Block. The law firm has billed the Legislature nearly $1 million for preparing subpoenas and a series of hearings, and for producing the interim report released in December.

“I would not, as a co-chair of the committee, vote for or recommend that we would continue with this law firm, for obvious reasons,” she said.

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Schepisi to Receive Award at Women’s Political Caucus of NJ’s Luncheon

Assembly Republican Press Release -

Assembly Republican Holly Schepisi will accept the “Carol Murphy Award” at the Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey’s 2016 Passion * Power * Progress Awards Reception on January 21. The award, named in honor of the late Assembly Republican Majority Conference Leader, is presented for advancing policies in support of women and families.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“I am grateful to receive this award, created in tribute to this amazing woman and trailblazing female legislator,” said Schepisi, R- Bergen and Passaic. “As a state representative, I am dedicated to ensuring that women can afford to live here and raise their families. I am committed to fundamentals New Jersey women deserve – equal paying jobs, quality education and healthcare. I am honored to be recognized by this organization that champions the same causes.”

The Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey’s mission is increasing the number of women in elected and appointed office, promoting the participation of women in the political process, and achieving equality for all women through political

The reception will be held from 6 to 8 p.m., Jan. 21, at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. For more information, visit WPCNJ.org.

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Schepisi Bill Opening NJ to Biofuel Production Signed Into Law

Assembly Republican Press Release -

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Republican Holly Schepisi and signed into law this week paves the way for new jobs for in the expanding biodiesel industry for New Jersey workers.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“The biodiesel industry is expanding rapidly, and it is time for New Jersey to get in on the action.” said Schepisi, R- Bergen and Passaic. “Until now, New Jersey was one of only two states in the U.S. without statutes in place for converting natural fats, greases and plants into renewable, clean biofuel in an environmentally friendly way. As there was not clarity as to what constituted a biodiesel fuel exemption, biodiesel businesses were reticent to invest dollars in New Jersey towards this industry.”

The Governor’s signing of Schepisi’s bill, S-2599/A-4121 means New Jersey is open for business. The development of just one biodiesel plant can create 200 construction jobs, 35 to 40 long-term, good-paying jobs for plant employees, and more than 800 jobs in related industries like trucking and agriculture.

“The expansion of this new industry into our state will spark needed economic growth in waterfront and track-side areas, and it will put thousands of people to work,” said Schepisi. “This is the start of a new era of sustainable, renewable fuel production.”

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