Bills Recognize Challenges of Pandemic

By Vin Gopal, Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey
This already is turning into a busy year in Trenton, with five of our bills signed into law over the past month and numerous others introduced in State Senate and Assembly committees.

The bills address challenges that veterans, restaurant owners and workers, persons with disabilities, farmers and others face during the public health crisis.

Our supplemental appropriation of $58 million for the NJ Statewide Body Worn Camera Program will provide funding to purchase body cameras and give state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies more flexibility to negotiate better prices. It also requires them to store data from body worn cameras using a tamper-proof digital evidence management system.

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The governor also signed into law our bill dedicating $12 million in corporation business tax (CBT) revenues to fund county planning incentive grants for farmland preservation. The new law will provide grants through the State Agriculture Development Committee of 80 percent of the cost of acquiring development easements on farmland for preservation.

Two of the bills that are now law provide assistance to hard-hit business segments. Restaurants have felt the pain of the pandemic-driven economic downturn more than most and many have closed their doors permanently. Our bill continues the current extension of seasonal liquor licenses to year-round operation through January 14, 2022 so restaurants can recoup some of their losses.

Garden State farmers, too, have suffered significant losses and incurred additional costs over the past 11 months. Our legislation allowing equine-related farm employees to live in facilities with horses as “Right to Farm” permissible activity will provide relief to the state’s 7,200 horse farms, many of which are in Monmouth County. The state’s horse industry has a $1.1 billion dollar economic impact and has created 13,000 jobs.

We also continue to work to make sure New Jersey’s armed forces veterans and their families receive the recognition they deserve. We are proud to have lead the movement that created the New Jersey Global War on Terrorism Medal for veterans who have served in America’s military campaigns against terrorism.

We have introduced legislation to rename and expand the Office of Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and to create the position of Deputy Ombudsman. The renamed Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Disabilities and Their Families would provide better communication from the Department of Human Services to families. Currently, when abuse at group home occurs, families are given only a summary of the investigation. It just isn’t enough information when a loved one has been abused. We also introduced legislation to entitle legal guardians to receive detailed information and actual records of investigations involving abuse, neglect, or exploitation of individuals with developmental disabilities. We introduced this bill after listening to testimony during our meetings with all the families in October.

We have also introduced legislation to create the Advisory Committee on Family Services and Communications in the state Department of Human Services’ Division of Disability Services to support family members and legal guardians of individuals with developmental disabilities. The Advisory Committee would identify inefficiencies, shortcomings, problems with outreach and communications and to work with the division’s leadership to fix them.

As we continue to work in Trenton to make sure the voices of residents and small businesses are heard, our staff remains available to help Legislative District 11 residents. If we can help you, please contact us by email at Help@njld11@njleg.org or call our office at (732) 695-3371.