Tag: Holly Schepisi

Assembly GOP Members Accuse Dems of Stifling Debate [video]

Source: NJTV News [video] -

There was very little effort to hide the mutual disdain among members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee during today’s marathon public hearing on four constitutional amendments potentially headed before voters in the fall. Republicans accuse Democrats of steamrolling through the hearings without leaving room for debate.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“If I’m not allowed to ask questions, I’d like to at least be able to have my thoughts put forth,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi.

“You’re making a comment about personal discussions in Democratic caucuses. I was just wondering, absent a hearing device, how you might know that,” said Assemblyman John McKeon.

“Because I actually speak to people and some of the members of your caucus actually don’t believe that we should be kept in the dark about everything, chairman,” Schepisi replied.

The tone set by lawmakers seemed to carry over to the public. Both members of interest groups and the unaffiliated snapped at, scolded and upbraided committee members for their positions and their process, particularly on key issues like the proposed constitutional amendment to mandate quarterly payments to the state pension fund.

“This is absolutely the wrong thing to do with regard to this issue. It is irresponsible of our legislators to consider putting this into the constitution because you were not elected to do that and also you are violating your oath of office by doing that,” said New Jersey Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken.

On legislative reapportionment, particularly, a move by the Democratic majority to change how districts are drawn, speakers were especially pointed in their criticism.

“This bill is fascist on its face. This is completely outside the ideals of a democratic society,” said Gregory Quinlan of New Jersey for a Conservative Majority.

“If this was an election cycle, my mailbox would be full of mailings telling me how wonderful your positions are and what you’re going to do. I doubt if I’m going to see any real mailings in my mailbox trying to inform me, objectively, of what this is all about,” said Al Frech of Citizens for Positive Change. “I’m not going to hear it. I doubt it.”

“Can I ask you a direct question?” asked Barbara Eames of Whippany. McKeon replied, “No.” Eames said, “OK. I guess that’s representative government. The public can ask questions but can’t get answers. I’m going to pose it to you and maybe you can email me or something.”

These bills have already cleared the Judiciary Committee. Today was an opportunity for the public to comment. Republicans noted the irony of allowing the public to speak on an issue after it had already cleared the committee.

“This has to be approved by a majority of the voters in New Jersey. Does everybody understand that? This is going to the ballot,” McKeon said.

As McKeon noted, voters will have the final say on whether the state’s constitution will be amended to accommodate the political desires of the majority, but it’s clear the minority party has been left with little recourse but to stamp their feet and cry foul.

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Carroll & Schepisi: Dem redistricting plan attacks voter rights [op-ed]

Source: Daily Record [op-ed] -

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

Michael Patrick Carroll

Schemes hatched in lame-duck sessions of the Legislature should always give reason for pause, but changing voting rights without considerable public discussion is reckless. A proposed constitutional amendment with a significant but unknown impact on the voting rights of New Jersey’s citizens deserves more than the hasty, slapdash, non-transparent treatment the Democrats are giving this measure.

Ignoring the Legislature’s responsibility to hold fact-finding hearings, Judiciary Committee Chairman John McKeon dismissed concerns about fast-tracking the proposal changing the way the state redraws its legislative districts. “The law is clear an unambiguous and the people will decide,” he said at last week’s committee hearing.

We did not support this plan in part because the sponsors couldn’t answer basic questions. How can voters make an informed decision about a constitutional amendment when the Legislature itself does not fully understand it?

What’s the rush? Legislative districts won’t be reconfigured again until 2021. When the 1966 Constitutional Convention considered the standards used today, it met for three months and had 14 meetings full of expert testimony. Additionally, there were six meetings specifically on apportionment. In this process, the Democrats are advancing a plan after only two brief committee meetings with no expert testimony and only two members of the public commenting.

Their amendment relies on a decades-old report by Dr. Donald Stokes, who served on the Apportionment Commission in 1981 and 1991. Many of his assumptions are based on demographics from almost a generation ago. No one can deny that New Jersey has changed significantly in a quarter century. Does Stokes’ modeling still hold true?

The amendment deviates from the report on even more critical aspects. Stokes used legislative elections to create his models and proposal, but this amendment ignores them. Instead, it relies on federal and gubernatorial elections that have little to do with drawing up legislative districts. Why exclude legislative races to determine how those districts should be drawn? That’s like using baseball statistics to determine how football should be played.

Their plan requires only a quarter of districts to be competitive, but allows the remaining 75 percent to have no contest at all. Why not maximize the number of competitive districts? The Stokes test for determining whether a map is fair requires the popular vote across the state to be represented among the districts as a whole and be responsive to the shifts of public opinion. When electoral tides move strongly toward one party, that party should fairly quickly win an effective majority of seats. Using the 2013 legislative election returns, a fair map should have resulted with 20 Democrat and 20 Republican senators, rather than the 24-16 split that has remained since that election.

Further, the amendment intentionally excludes the equal representation requirement in the state Constitution. Every state respects equal population requirements, the bedrock of American democracy since “no taxation without representation.” Yet, the Democrats intentionally left it out in favor of gerrymandering districts, which almost always shift groups of voters to limit the voting rights of others. They may point to the compactness requirement in the constitution, but this amendment makes federal law pre-eminent.

Democrats have held a legislative majority since 2001 and hold their largest majority in 40 years. So why do the sponsors want to make this change?

The plan was conceived behind closed-doors by Democratic political operatives with essentially a super PAC in East Brunswick. They introduced it to the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Nov. 17, even though it was not mentioned during a previous meeting just three days earlier. With little more information than a Politico article, it passed on a party-line vote the week before Christmas.

While parties may disagree on the result of the map every 10 years, New Jersey’s electoral process has been routinely praised by academics when compared to other states. Why weren’t those experts invited to the committee hearing? Shouldn’t we know what other states do before moving forward with a constitutional amendment? Surely if this plan were all the Democrats say, there would have been a line of academics ready to back them up.

In no other profession would you first enact a policy to know what is in it. The lack of information, transparency and candor is reason enough to be concerned with where the state is headed under a Democratic majority. This constitutional amendment blindly leads the public into forever changing the way New Jersey votes.

Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll and Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi are Republican members of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

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Republicans oppose Dems’ plan to change make-up of legislative districts

Source: Inquirer -

New Jersey Democrats are moving to change the process by which the state’s legislative districts are drawn, advancing a bill that would put the high-stakes political issue to voters through a constitutional amendment.

Their plan, opposed vociferously by Republicans, would change the composition of the Apportionment Commission and use data from all statewide general elections – for governor, U.S. Senate, and president – held in the previous decade to draw the political map.

Michael Patrick Carroll

 

“Politics is about winning; nobody knows that better than the other party. And[the Democrats have] been very good at it. If you’re the Democrats, and you’ve had two beautiful cycles which have delivered magnificent results, why change?” – Assembly Republican Michael Patrick Carroll

 

The wonky, math-intensive matter of redistricting helps shape the balance of power in Trenton and in statehouses across the country. Democrats in Trenton have won an advantage in each of the last two maps, drawn in 2011 and 2001. They control both houses of the Legislature.

Congressional redistricting is a separate process that wouldn’t be affected by the amendment.

The latest effort, which has unfolded in Trenton over the last two weeks, comes nearly five years before the next map will be drawn. The state constitution requires the Apportionment Commission to redraw the districts every decade to account for changes in the Census.

Voters elect one senator and two Assembly members to represent each of the state’s 40 districts.

Democrats say they want to put the issue on the ballot in 2016 because the presidential election will result in high voter turnout, and thus greater voter participation.

To get the question on next year’s ballot, the Legislature would need to pass the bill with majority votes both this session, which ends in mid-January, and next, or with one three-fifths majority vote.

Republicans have not minced words in their criticism.

“This is not our finest moment. It’s a terrible moment for democracy,” State Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R., Passaic) said during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Monday, when Democrats advanced the measure on an 8-5 vote along party lines. O’Toole, instead, offered an amendment to impose term limits, which Democrats shot down.

“Historically anti-American,” offered Sen. Gerry Cardinale (R., Bergen).

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“Doubling down on stupid,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R., Bergen), referring to the second legislative hearing she had attended on the matter in less than a week.

The principal target of their frustration: a provision in the bill that would require “at least” 25 percent of all districts, or 10 of the 40 total, to be competitive.

The legislation defines a competitive district as one that is more favorable to either party by no more than five percentage points of the “average district,” which would be calculated by using voting results in the statewide elections.

If the districts were to be redrawn today, the “average district” would lean 54 percent Democratic and 46 percent Republican, said Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D., Camden), a sponsor of the bill.

The commission would also be required to ensure that each party has an equal number of “favorable” districts, relative to the average.

Republicans object that the 25 percent requirement would constitutionally enshrine an anticompetitive map, thereby deterring voters from heading to the polls and undermining the democratic process.

Democrats are moving ahead with the bill even as the U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing a case challenging the “one person, one vote” principle that undergirds federal law governing the political process.

The plaintiffs, from Texas, want each district to have the same number of eligible voters – not the same total population, which includes children, noncitizens, and others who can’t vote.

Opponents of the New Jersey legislation note that if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs next year, lawmakers would have to change the state amendment, voiding any vote held this session.

Still others suggest that the plan, which is being rushed through the lame-duck session, is a plot by Democrats to ensure they maintain an outsize majority in perpetuity.

“Politics is about winning; nobody knows that better than the other party,” said Assemblyman Michael Patrick Carroll (R., Morris). “And they’ve been very good at it. If you’re the Democrats, and you’ve had two beautiful cycles which have delivered magnificent results, why change?”

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Schepisi serving as honorary co-chair of state legislators’ mission to Israel

Source: New Jersey Jewish News -

Members of the New Jersey State Assembly Holly Schepisi (R-Dist. 39) and Pamela Lampitt (D-Dist. 6) have been named honorary co-chairs of the “NJ Legislators’ Study Mission to Israel” organized by the NJ State Association of Jewish Federations.

The mission, scheduled for Feb. 25 to March 4, follows upon the 2014 State Association’s trip in which 12 legislators — including Lampitt and Schepisi — participated and which, said State Association president Mark Levenson, “was an informative and educational visit which deepened the ties between New Jersey and Israel and among the participants.”

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“Traveling to Israel for the first time two years ago,” Schepisi said, “I finally understood the import of United States support for this country. Here is a country, roughly the size of New Jersey, but ranked second in the world for venture capital funds and hosting the largest percentage by population of startup companies in the world, while developing such innovative technologies as Amazon’s Kindle and the Iron Dome missile defense system.”

Schepisi also pointed to Israel’s security concerns. “One cannot fully perceive the scope and magnitude of the dangers faced by Israel and its citizens before understanding that its neighbors are as similar in size and distance as New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware are to New Jersey — but yet each of these neighbors have expressed a desire at some point to eliminate Israel.

“As NJ legislators it is important to learn firsthand how to look to Israel as a model for turning New Jersey back into a business leader while showing our support for Israel’s security concerns,” Schepisi said.

State Association executive director Jacob Toporek said the two legislators’ commitment to the mission “reflects the strong and reliable support in the Legislature from both sides of the aisle that the Jewish community counts on time and again on matters concerning Israel and the NJ-Israel relationship.”

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Republicans contest four constitutional amendments on ballot

Source: Asbury Park Press -

Casinos, pensions, redistricting, gas taxes: 2016’s election could be a big one in New Jersey, in addition to picking a new president.

Democratic lawmakers have opted for direct democracy next year, with plans to put ballot questions before voters on an array of weighty issues — North Jersey casinos, guaranteeing contributions to public workers’ pensions, overhauling the way legislative districts are drawn and guaranteeing that all taxes collected on fuel sales pays for transportation projects.

Republicans expressed frustration that Democrats are trying to work around Christie, who has no role in whether questions are put on a November ballot. They are miffed as well that the proposed constitutional amendments are advancing on short notice.

At an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday, lawmakers were prohibited from asking questions of witnesses.

Jon Bramnick

“The Democratic majority is taking our constitution and, in my judgment, making some very dangerous amendments,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union.

“It’s government as its absolute worst,” said Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen.

Voters have approved 56 of the last 60 statewide ballot questions, dating back to 1988, including 33 in a row between 1991 and 2006. Those include both constitutional amendments and borrowing for various purposes. Voters rejected three ballot questions in 2007 and 2008 but have approved the last nine.

Not since 1984 have New Jersey voters decided four constitutional amendments on a single ballot. And those didn’t rush through a legislative committee in a single day.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“They have just bought themselves every special interest dollar from every super PAC imaginable, to be poured into the state of New Jersey,” Schepisi said. “We just saw an election where more super PAC money came in than I think ever before. Wait until you see what transpires because these ballot initiatives have all been lumped in together. You are going to see our entire state bought by special interests, and that’s wrong.”

Here’s what voters will be deciding, presuming the legislation is passed as expected:

• Casinos. Revenues at Atlantic City casinos have plunged since the seaside resort lost its East Coast gaming monopoly, and with that funding for state programs has been cut by more than half. A proposal, the details of which are still in flux, will be put to voters asking whether to allow two casinos to be built in two North Jersey counties, hoping to recapture gamblers from places like New York.

Chris A. Brown

Assemblyman Christopher Brown, R-Atlantic, said the plan will cannibalize Atlantic City and that 15,000 jobs will be lost, though a portion of the proceeds will be used for a more diverse economic revitalization in Atlantic City.

“You’re killing it. You’re killing it. And your conversation over the past two years has also led to killing Atlantic City,” Brown said, referring to speculation that North Jersey casinos are inevitable.

• Pensions. Following a state Supreme Court ruling that a 2011 state law can’t require the state to make contributions to the pension funds for public workers, Democrats want a question on the ballot mandating those payments. There would have to be quarterly contributions, starting in August 2017 and gradually increasing through mid-2021. The pension funds are some $40 billion in arrears.

The political backdrop to the debate is Gov. Chris Christie’s push for further changes to workers’ pensions and health benefits, a years-long battle that three weeks ago included the governor calling the New Jersey State PBA president a “pension pig.”

“I think of our heroes who do public service as heroes, not as pigs, and they are owed this pension, and they’re counting on an honest society to meet its legal, financial and, yes, moral obligation,” said Hetty Rosenstein, New Jersey director for the Communications Workers of America union.

Those annual payments will top off between $5 billion and $6 billion, warned Mike Proto, communications director at Americans for Prosperity’s state chapter.

“I don’t think anybody believes that there’s any way the state will be able to make those payments without massive tax hikes on the middle class and all New Jersey taxpayers,” Proto said.

The NJ Senate took a first step toward asking voters to amend the state constitution to require pension fund contributions. VIDEO BY MICHAEL SYMONS.

• Redistricting. Every 10 years, after the census, a commission redraws the boundaries of the 40 legislative districts from which state Senate and Assembly members are elected to ensure their populations are fairly close.

Democrats want to require that the map includes 15 districts favorable to each of the two major parties and 10 designed in ways that reflect the percentage of the vote each party received in the past decade’s presidential, U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races in the state.

Given that Democrats have won every presidential race in New Jersey since 1992 and every U.S. Senate race since 1976, that’s a pretty significant thumb on the scale, say outraged Republicans. Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr. prefers an amendment that would prevent political registration or election results from being used at all.

“The sole purpose of the amendment to change the constitution on redistricting is to make it impossible for the Republican Party to ever control the Legislature,” said Bramnick, the Assembly minority leader, who said it would make New Jersey “ a one-party state forever.”

McKeon said that’s not a guarantee.

• Transportation Trust Fund. This was certainly the least controversial of the four amendments, in large part because it isn’t a long-term solution for how to pay for road, bridge and rail projects.

Most of the money from diesel fuel taxes already go into the Transportation Trust Fund, but a portion — amounting to some $25 million a year —isn’t. Most of the wholesale fuel taxes also go toward the TTF, though $15 million doesn’t. This question would devote all fuel tax revenue to the fund. A funding plan will still be needed to bankroll transportation projects beyond June 2016.

 

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Despite Republican efforts, lawmakers advance four proposed changes to NJ constitution

Source: NewsWorks -

The Judiciary Committee in the New Jersey Assembly has voted to advance four separate constitutional amendments.

One of the proposals would allow two casinos in North Jersey.

Chris A. Brown

Republican Assemblyman Chris Brown of Atlantic County opposes the idea. He recommends doing a study on the impact of new casinos before voters are asked to decide whether to allow them.

“You’re just going to throw it up to the people. Wouldn’t you agree that we have an obligation as representative to at least do the study at least do the homework?” he said Thursday.

But Democrat Ralph Caputo of Essex County says Atlantic City has lost customers to casinos in neighboring states, and it’s time to act.

Joe Kelly, the president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce, said Atlantic City casinos are doing better now but that allowing new ones would threaten any stability.

“If we have casinos in other parts of the state, we potentially could lose an additional 14,000 jobs,” he said.

The amendment calls for 63 percent of state tax revenue from the new casinos to dedicated to programs for seniors and the disabled, while 35 percent would go to Atlantic City.

Another of the constitutional amendments would require all revenue from the state’s tax on motor fuels to be dedicated to the Transportation Trust Fund.And another would mandate state pension payments and change the makeup of the commission that determines legislative district boundaries.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi [said she has concerns that proposing so many constitutional changes usurps the traditional process of enacting laws.]

“It makes us almost irrelevant,” she said. “The last time I checked we are not California, we are not a body that just governs by referendum.”

Democrats are pushing the constitutional amendments to circumvent Gov. Chris Christie because he’s running for president, said Schepisi, adding that is “politics at its absolute worst.”

 

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Assembly fails twice to override Christie gun vetoes

Asbury Park Press -

Two attempts to override Gov. Chris Christie’s vetoes of gun-related legislation, one connected to mental health and the other to domestic violence, failed Thursday in the state Assembly.

More than 500 people in New Jersey died in connection with a firearm-related incident in 2013, and the issue has taken on even greater urgency following mass shootings and the California terrorist attack. It’s also a political minefield for Christie as he seeks the presidential nomination of a Republican Party more strongly in favor of gun rights than a majority of people in New Jersey.

An effort to enact a bill that would expand law-enforcement notifications if a person sought to erase their mental-health records from a database used for background checks when a person buys a gun fell three votes short of success for the second time this month. The vote wasn’t recorded, and the bill is likely to come for a final override attempt Jan. 11.

A separate effort to enact a bill that would require domestic abusers to to surrender their guns while a restraining order is effect fell five votes shy of success. Republicans said such people are already legally prohibited from possessing guns. That vote was recorded, meaning the bill was formally defeated.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“It doesn’t show any of us at our finest,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi, R-Bergen, said of the lack of cooperation between lawmakers and Christie on areas where they are common concerns. “The fact that we’re doing this to try to just score political points — none of us are even attempting to work in conjunction with one another. We are turning into D.C.”

The mental-health bill, S2360, would require notifications to local police if a person who had once been involuntarily committed for psychiatric care wants a judge to erase those records so he or she can buy a gun. Christie rejected it, turning it into a much broader proposal about mental health reforms.

Would-be gun buyers who were formerly committed to a mental institution but have since recovered may be ineligible to legally buy a firearm because of the mental health records, but a judge can direct the record to be expunged from NICS if he or she finds that the applicant isn’t likely to act in a dangerous manner.

Under terms of a state law Christie signed in 2013, New Jersey is required to provide mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, in compliance with federal laws passed in 1993 and 2007. It has transmitted 425,000 records of mental health adjudications dating back to the 1970s.

Unlike two weeks ago, when that bill was debated for an hour, there was nearly no discussion of it Thursday. But there was a longer exchange on the second bill, A4218, which would make domestic abusers surrender their guns and suspend their gun purchasing permit while a restraining order is in effect and revoke those permits entirely if they’re convicted.

Christie’s conditional veto said that proposal mostly restated existing laws and instead proposed longer prison sentences and parole ineligibility for domestic abuse and requiring an expedited review for gun license applications filed by domestic-violence victims.

Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz, R-Union, said Christie’s recommendations made for a stronger bill.

Nancy Munoz

“There is nothing in this bill that will do anything to further protect the victims of domestic violence because these protections already exist,” Munoz said.

A veto override needs 54 votes to succeed in the Assembly. Just as it did two weeks ago, the override on the mental-health bill had the support of 47 Democrats and four Republicans: Christopher Brown, R-Atlantic; Jack Ciattarelli, R-Somerset; Amy Handlin, R-Monmouth; and Jay Webber, R-Morris.

Three Republicans who voted to abstain two weeks ago this time voted against that override: Robert Auth, R-Bergen; Samuel Fiocchi, R-Cumberland; and Schepisi. One, Assemblyman Sean Kean, R-Monmouth, voted to abstain after earlier voting against the veto override. And two Republicans who voted against it last time didn’t vote: David Rible, R-Monmouth, and David Russo, R-Bergen.

The vote on the domestic-violence related measure was 49-11, with 18 voting to abstain. Brown, Ciattarelli and Handlin were the only three Republicans who supported the override.

Because the Assembly had voted to place the house “under call,” Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, D-Hudson, recorded the 18 votes to abstain as votes against the bill.

Jon Bramnick

“Taking the vote of members in the abstention and turning that into a ‘no’ vote in my judgment is a political maneuver,” said Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, R-Union, who was among those whose abstentions were switched by Prieto.

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Brown-Schepisi Voice Objections in Contentious Hearing on Four Constitutional Amendments

NJTV (with video) -

Four constitutional amendments were approved in one hearing. Democrats defended it. Republicans railed against it.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“To not hold a series of open public meetings on some of these issues, particularly the redistricting issue, is just politics at its absolute worst,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi said.

When asked if he can remember the last time there were this many constitutional amendments on a ballot, Assemblyman John McKeon said, “I don’t know, Michael. Your point of reference might be better than mine on this. There are usually several, at least two or three. So, this is four.”

One amendment would ask voters to approve casino gambling in two North Jersey locations. Another would dedicate all existing gasoline, diesel and petroleum products taxes to the Transportation Trust Fund. A third would require the state to make a full pension payment by 2022. The fourth would change the legislative redistricting process to ensure that 25 percent of the districts are competitive, beginning in 2021.

“We’re talking 5 years from now. Why are we rushing this through today?” Shepisi asked.

The casino question pitted North Jersey Assemblyman Ralph Caputo against Atlantic City’s Chris Brown. 35 percent of the tax revenue from two new casinos would be directed back to Atlantic City for non-gaming development projects.

Chris A. Brown

“Well, I will tell you you’re killing Atlantic City,” Brown countered. “You’re killing it, and your conversation over the past two years is killing Atlantic City.”

A constitutional amendment goes straight to the voters, bypassing the governor. Governor Christie objects to how Democrats have been using it.

“It’s an embarrassment that the minimum wage is in our constitution,” Christie said.

When asked if she think it’s an attempt by the Democrats to get around the governor, Shepisi said, “Oh, absolutely. No question.”

“Of course it is,” McKeon said. “To the extent that we’re not dealing with Jersey-centric policies at this point while he’s pursuing his national aspirations, then we need to do what we need to do to deal with the issue of the day here in New Jersey.”

The four Democrats on the Judiciary committee made sure all four amendments moved forward, but not without some dressing down by one of the two committee Republicans.

“Do I believe we should constitutionally do something that we as legislators don’t even understand the implications of?” Shepisi asked. “I think it is the most fiscally irresponsible thing that we could do. If we don’t understand the implications of it, how in God’s name is the average citizen that we represent supposed to understand it?”

It takes a 3/5th majority to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot or a simple majority two years in a row. Democrats seem poised to do that. If the ballot is a little crowded in 2016, it’ll still be nothing like California’s.

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Schepisi faults lawmakers push pension ballot question on forcing N.J. to make payments

Star Ledger -

A referendum to amend the New Jersey constitution to require the state to make contributions to public worker pensions cleared the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Thursday during a discussion that drew sharp criticism from a Republican lawmaker.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (R-Bergen) faulted Democrats for pushing the legislation through without proper vetting and input from Treasury officials and Wall Street analysts.

“This is where bad governing comes into play, and having four constitutional amendments crammed down people in New Jersey’s throat with no forewarning is a really, really bad way to do things,” said Schepisi, who voted against a Democratic-backed resolution that was introduced last week.

“Do I believe that our pension needs to be funded? Absolutely,” she added. “Do I believe that we should constitutionally do something that we as legislators don’t even understand the implications of, I think is the most fiscally irresponsible thing that we could do. And if we don’t understand the implications of it, how in God’s name is the average citizen that we represent supposed to understand it.”

The proposal was supported Thursday by labor leaders who said the constitutional amendment is vital given the state’s record on dodging full pension payments the past two decades, contributing to a $40 billion unfunded liability.

The amendment would require the state to follow a newly revised funding schedule. The Democrats’ payment plan is a riff on the plan Gov. Christie Christie set the state on this year, when he included in the state budget a $1.3 billion pension payment, which is only about 30 percent of the full amount actuaries recommend.

Under the newest plan, the state would continue down that road for two more years — while Christie is governor — and backload larger payments from 2019 to 2022, when the state reaches the full $5.6 billion payment recommended by actuaries. Payments would increase by 10 percent of the full payment each year in 2017 and 2018, before the rate of increase accelerates to 12.5 percent.

But a spokeswoman for Christie, Nicole Sizemore, called the proposed amendment Democrats’ “latest attempt to advance a ridiculously irresponsible tax and spend agenda.”

“They aren’t fooling anyone,” she said in a statement. “This is about raising taxes to pay back public sector unions and feed their craving to spend taxpayer money.”

Schepisi said Thursday that she, too, fears the impact of constitutionally mandating billions of dollars in new spending.

“The only way that we can conceivably do it is to raise every tax on every human being who’s currently in the state of New Jersey, which is the most highly burdened tax state in the entire nation. It’s not the right way to do things,” she said.

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Republican lawmakers charge Democrats seeking to tighten their grip on N.J.

Star Ledger -

A plan that aims to overhaul the way New Jersey redraws its legislative districts took a step forward Thursday over the objections of Republicans who said Democrats were rushing through a measure that would allow them to tighten their political control of the state.

New Jersey redraws both its state and congressional districts every 10 years. It was last done in 2011.

But this resolution (ACR4) would ask voters to amend the state constitution to approve a number of changes to the process — including new designations over whether certain districts are considered competitive or not.

The state Assembly’s judiciary committee voted 4-2 along party lines to approve the measure. It must be still approved by the full Assembly and state Senate before being placed on next November’s ballot to voters to decide its fate.

The biggest change the amendment would make is mandating that at least 10 of New Jersey’s districts be “competitive” and that the remaining districts that favor one party be split evenly.

But what constitutes a competitive or favorable district? That would be based on what is deemed the “democratic performance index” — how each political party performed in the previous decade in elections for president, U.S. Senate, and governor.

New Jersey has 700,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. And though it has frequently elected a Republican governor — like current Gov. Chris Christie — it often favors Democrats for president and U.S. Senate.

Jon Bramnick

In a news conference Thursday, Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) said Democrats are “making this a one-party state forever.”

“This is the most extreme proposal that’s ever been put forth,” Bramnick said.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) called it “a power and money grab” that would consolidate power in the hands of Democrats and make minority voters in their districts less enfranchised, not more.

Kean said he will soon release his own proposal requiring redistricting maps be based solely on census population data and that the panel drawing them hold public hearings in the north, south, and center of the state.

Still, Republicans also took issue with the fact that Democrats introduced the plan on Monday and that it was placed only days later on an already crowded agenda Thursday — the second-to-last voting session of the legislative session that ends Jan. 11.

Holly Schepisi

Holly Schepisi

“To just try to kind of sneak this in as a last-minute thing when everybody’s getting ready for Christmas, I find appalling,” Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi (D-Bergen) said.

For the resolution to be placed on next November’s ballot, it must be approved by a simple majority of both houses of the state Legislature in consecutive legislative years. Failing that, it needs to be approved by a three-fifths majority in one legislative year.

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