From the Senate By Vin Gopal
Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year as we enter 2023. I want to share my goals and priorities, including affordability, equity and safety for all residents.
Car thefts continue to be an important safety issue, especially disturbing because criminals are burglarizing houses for key fobs, stealing cars right out of people’s driveways and using the vehicles to commit other crimes.
We cannot continue to stand by and wait for things to get better.
I am continuing to press my legislation targeting repeat offenders by establishing a “rebuttable presumption” of pretrial detention to ensure repeat offenders stay behind bars until their trial for the crimes of carjacking, theft, and burglary pending trial. This is a decisive and targeted action to detain repeat offenders that would expire in one year so we can evaluate how it worked.
It is one of five bills introduced last year to combat car thefts by toughening penalties for car thefts, repeat offenders and for the illegal use of master keys. Along with five cosponsored bills, this legislation is awaiting a hearing before the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Keeping students safe and addressing the increase in depression, mental illness and suicide among young people also remains a top priority. Enabling retired police officers to serve as school safety offices was a step in the right direction for school safety by ensuring there is someone on hand for emergencies.
We’re making progress addressing mental health: continuing to fund School-Based Youth Services; $12 million in new funding for the New Jersey Pediatric Psychiatric Collaborative at Jersey Shore Medical Center; $50 million in federal dollars in the 2023 state budget to strengthen resources like the mental health hotline, 9-8-8, connecting individuals to a network of trained crisis counselors.
But there is much work ahead and discussions of how to make mental health services more accessible to students will continue to be part of every Senate Education Committee meeting. In the Senate, we are working to knock down barriers to employment for people with disabilities with bills like my legislation to give preference for employment in state government to qualified employees with disabilities.
We also must continue to make sure the state budget includes Monmouth County’s fair share, including funds that help nonprofit organizations that provide services from housing and food pantries to mental health counseling and after-school programs. These organizations are real change makers. It’s a privilege to work with them as partners in making Monmouth County more affordable, safer and more equitable for all residents. Without them, many of our state programs would be overwhelmed.
We must continue to help businesses recover from the hit they took during the pandemic, and the economic strain of high levels of flu and RSV. Last year, programs and budget appropriations I supported generated $4 million in additional investments in the district. Main Street businesses are the heart of our local economy and we must continue to support them as they generate employment and attract new businesses. We continue to work with stakeholders on legislation to extend the ability of restaurants, bars and craft breweries to continue serving customers in expanded outdoor space and we are optimistic we will make progress in the new year.
As always, the ideas and suggestions of residents will continue to drive my legislative agenda in 2023. Please never hesitate to contact me at SenGopal@njleg.org, or at (732) 695-3371, to share your ideas and concerns.
Please accept my best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year, one in which New Jersey continues to be safer, fairer and more affordable for all of us.