LWVNJ January 2014 Advocacy Update
Dear Local League Presidents and Leaders,
Greetings, and Happy New Year! In an effort to keep you and your members more informed about the State League’s program and advocacy activities, I will be reporting to you on a quarterly basis, beginning with this communication. It is our hope that, by keeping the local Leagues informed, we might interest League members in our advocacy efforts and encourage more of you to join our program committees. It’s a great way to learn about subject areas of importance to you from League members who are truly experts “in the field.”
Our program committees are invaluable to the work of the State League. They provide the eyes, ears and brain power we depend on to keep the LWVNJ relevant in Trenton and throughout the state. (Copies of our advocacy correspondence and testimony referenced in the quarterly advocacy updates can be found on the website under each issue area.)
The Education Committee is busy preparing the study materials and questions local leagues will use for their Charter School consensus meetings in 2014. As you may recall, our members voted last year on an update study of our Charter School position. The study will look at admissions and enrollment protocol; the role of host communities in granting a charter; multiple authorizers; reasons to grant a charter; and accountability requirements on a school and the authorizer(s).
We are also watching out for any activity on A-2586, a bill that “equalizes standing of private and public colleges before land use agencies.” The League opposes this legislation because, while we recognize the importance of updating and improving our state’s academic and research institutions, we cannot support legislation that would allow private institutions to circumvent local land use planning authorities. This bill passed in the Senate (S.1534) and has been referred to the Budget Committee in the Assembly.
This committee will swing into gear when the Governor’s 2014 Budget is introduced. While we have some very knowledgeable members on this committee, we are always on the look out for League members who have an interest in fiscal policy issues.
The Government committee has been on the lookout for any movement on the two bills that would amend the Open Public Records Act (S.2512/A.3712) and the Open Public Meetings Act (S.2511/A.3713).
S.2512/A.3712 Open Public Records Act: The League supports this bill. This is the latest version of a comprehensive overhaul of OPRA. It includes changes in previous bills, which the League supported:
- Expanded organizations covered by the law
- Provided that records maintained in electronic format can be provided at no charge and that records on a web site meet requirement of providing access
- Tightened language and definitions (rules for special charges and reasons for redaction)
- Made changes to Government Records Council
S.2512 adds searchable financial website requirements on State Treasurer and provides assistance to local government to establish similar websites. In addition, it allows Superior Court to limit number and scope of a requestor if found requests harass or interfere with operation of agency. S.2512 is ready for a floor vote in the Senate. The League will notify our members as soon as the bill is posted for a vote so they can call their legislators to encourage passage. A.3712 has not been heard in committee.
S.2511/A.3713 Open Public Records Act: The League supports this bill. It is the latest version of a comprehensive overhaul of OPMA. The bill expands public bodies covered to include quasi-governmental organizations, independent authorities, and redevelopment and improvement groups. It modernizes the Act with respect to electronic communications and sets minimum requirements of what must be posted on public body’s website. It requires time for public comment on decisions prior to vote by the public body. It clarifies adequate notice, agenda and minute requirements and closed session resolutions.
S.2511 is ready for a floor vote in the Senate. The League will notify our members as soon as the bill is posted for a vote so they can call their legislators to encourage passage. A.3713 has not been heard in committee.
This committee was kept very busy in 2013, following the progress of in-state tuition legislation in both houses of the legislature. As you may recall, League members received an action alert in December, asking you to contact your Assembly members on the Tuition Equality Act
S.2479/A.3509 - In-state Tuition: The League supports this bill. It allows certain students, including undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria, to qualify for resident tuition at public institutions of higher education and State financial aid. This is one of several versions of in-state tuition legislation. Unlike earlier bills supported by the League, it includes access to state financial aid, which is consistent with our original study and consensus. The Immigration Committee has recommended we support this bill.
The League has been vocal in its support of the bill. We submitted testimony at the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Hearing on 11/14/13 and at the Assembly Budget Committee Hearing on 12/12/13. S.2479 passed in the Senate on 11/18/13 and in the Assembly on 12/19/13.
Update: Governor Christie agreed to sign a revised version of the bill that does not provide state financial aid, but allows for unauthorized students who meet the residential and attendance requirements to qualify for in-state tuition rates. The League will support the revised legislation.
The Natural Resources Committee has been kept very busy with several issues that fall under our Smart Growth positions.
Rahway Arch – This is the name given to a project to cap a chemical waste disposal site in Carteret, near the mouth of the Rahway River that currently serves as a retention basin for millions of cubic feet of water. In late September, LWVNJ President, Toni Zimmer, wrote to Governor Christie to request an independent environmental impact assessment be completed and followed by a public hearing. The letter also requested that the Flood Hazard Area Regulations not be waived for the applicant. A second letter was sent to the DEP Division of Air Quality which asked for a public hearing on the application for an air quality permit for the emission of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The communities that would be impacted by the project are environmental justice communities with poor air quality, high asthma rates and other environmental burdens.
Coast Guard Letter – LWVNJ joined over 140 organizations, including the Leagues of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Delaware, in signing onto a Delaware RiverKeeper letter which expressed our opposition to the US Coast Guard’s policy letter to permit shale gas extraction waste to be carried on our nation’s river.
SR 120 – Port Ambrose Liquid Natural Gas Facility: Urges federal and State officials to prevent construction of Port Ambrose LNG facility off the New Jersey Coast. There is an application before the Maritime Administration and the Coast Guard to construct a liquid natural gas facility off the coast. This is the same application Liberty Natural Gas put forward in 2010 which we opposed and which Governor Christie vetoed. Liberty has only moved its location from the shores of NJ to the NY coast, within 14 nautical miles of Sandy Hook, NJ. (The League testified at a public hearing on this application in July. The statement can be found on the LWVNJ website.
LWVNJ testified in support of this resolution before the Senate Energy and Environment Committee and is working with other groups to encourage a vote in the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. We also signed onto a letter prepared by Clean Ocean Action which spells out our reasons for opposing the facility.
Pinelands Commission Memorandum of Understanding – LWVMA wrote a letter to the Pinelands Commission in support of correspondence from several environmental and community groups which urged the Pinelands Commission to reject the proposed Memorandum of Agreement between the Pinelands Commission and the Board of Public Utilities to allow South Jersey Gas to construct a gas pipeline through the protected Pinelands. Failing that request, the letter asked the Commission to amend the current process to provide adequate public participation on the matter.
Women and Family Issues:
As you know, members of this committee prepared the study materials and consensus questions for our recent study on Human Trafficking. The results of the local League consensus meetings have been collated and a position has been drafted. The committee will reach out to state Leagues throughout the country to request they vote to adopt our position by concurrence at the LWVUS Convention in June, thus making it a National position as well. The New Jersey League has had some luck with this process in the past….In 1983, the LWVUS adopted a national position affirming the right of privacy in reproductive choices based substantially on work that was done in New Jersey.
If you or any of your members have questions about the information provided in this advocacy update or would like more information on program committees, please email or call me any time.