From the Legislature – Helping Workers and Veterans

By Vin Gopal, Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey – When we support workers, veterans and their families, we enhance the economy and make our community stronger.

Last week we introduced legislation to build upon our past initiatives to help active members of the armed forces and veterans. In addition, our legislation to expand the use of Project Labor Agreements (S3414/A5378) was signed into law, providing a pathway to the middle class for hard-working men and women in the building trades.

Prior to its passage, public entities were allowed to enter into PLAs only for building-based projects. Our law expands their use to any public works project that is subject to the New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act, including highways, bridge pumping stations, water and sewage treatment plant projects. In addition to creating good-paying jobs for tens of thousands of New Jersey workers, the law contains provisions promoting workforce diversity and will ensure the next generation of construction workers remain the best trained workforce.

While this law focuses on large public works projects, it compliments our previous legislation supporting local small businesses such as designating the last full week of July as “Buy Local Week” and requiring the Division of Travel and Tourism to publish information about farm-to-table restaurants on its website to support local growers and restaurants.

We also have supported women in the workplace by prohibiting employers from asking a potential hire’s wage and salary history. Studies have found on average women earn 80 percent of what men are paid for the same job. Forcing a potential employee to disclose her prior salaries just perpetuated that disparity and our bill, which became law in the last legislative session, prevents employers from doing it.

Last week we introduced several bills supporting the families of veterans that were developed after meeting with a liaison from the federal Department of Defense. Families make great sacrifices too when spouses are serving far away. We owe it to them to make their lives a little easier whenever we can. That’s why we introduced legislation to enable their spouses and dependents to qualify for in-state tuition when the service member is transferred out of the state  (A5692). Of our initiatives (A5694) permits children to enroll in school districts in advance of relocating there. We also introduced legislation to establish the “Purple Star Schools Program” in the Department of Education (A5693). The Purple Star Schools Program recognizes public and nonpublic schools that emphasize the importance of assisting children of military families with an award for increasing equity, raising awareness and responding to the unique educational and social-emotional challenges of military-connected students.

We believe these bills will build on our previous efforts such as expanding the definition of “veteran” for the civil service hiring preference by removing length and location of service requirements, and helping convince the NJ Economic Development Authority to expand grant eligibility to veterans organizations in the second round of its COVID-19 recovery funding. In the last legislative session we also introduced (A4042) to establish a price preference program of up to 10 percent of the amount of the contract for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses competing for state contracts. We also passed a law granting honorably discharged veterans the right to obtain a peddler’s license.

When we celebrate Memorial Day this year – a bitter sweet holiday that recalls those who gave their lives in the service of our country as well as the start of summer – let’s all make sure we thank the veterans in our families and among our friends for their service. And let’s welcome the summer season by renewing our commitment to buying from local businesses.

Stay safe.