Senate Law and Public Safety Committee Advances Legislation – On Feb. 8, the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee advanced legislation to track untested rape kits and curb gun trafficking. S715 would create an online system for victims, law enforcement, and health facilities to track rape kits from collection to results. The legislation follows a March 2023 directive from NJ Attorney General Matthew Platkin which ordered law enforcement agencies to hold onto DNA evidence for 20 years (up from five years) and to follow guidelines for storage, tracking, and testing timelines for evidence. NJ received $2 million from the U.S. Department of Justice to establish a rape-kit tracking system in September 2023. The legislation now faces review in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
S1425 would expand culpability for the transfer of firearms to people disqualified from gun ownership under state law. The new law would revoke a gun dealer’s license and charge them with a second-degree crime for selling a firearm to someone the dealer should have known planned to sell or transfer the firearm illicitly. A lobbyist representing gun right groups critiqued the “subjective standard” implemented by the bill, and one of the bill’s sponsors stated she would consider tweaking the language.
NJ Board Approves Utilities Auction Results, Electricity Rates to Rise June 1 – The NJ Board of Public Utilities approved on Feb. 12 the results of the state’s Basic Generation Service auctions, which aim to purchase electricity for the state for the upcoming year. Utilities acquired 8,131 megawatts of power for 2024. Rates for electricity will rise slightly starting June 1, at varying rates based on customer type and company. Efforts to electrify transportation, modernize the grid, and transition to alternative energy sources such as solar may account for rate increases over the past few years.
Family Leave Job Guarantee Expansion Clears Assembly Committees – A3451, which would expand eligibility for job reinstatement guarantees to workers at companies with as few as five employees, passed the Assembly Labor Committee on Feb. 5 and the Assembly Appropriations Committee on Feb. 8. Currently, this guarantee is only available to employees of companies with 30 or more employees. The change would be phased in over two years. Supporters assert the importance of expanding these protections to workers whose taxes fund the state’s family leave program, while opponents have voiced concern that smaller businesses may not be able to bear the costs. The bill now faces a vote by the full assembly.
NJ Representatives Cosponsor Federal Legislation to Bring Aid to NJ Transit – U.S. representatives from NJ co-sponsored a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson on Feb. 10 which would allocate $20 billion to support transit systems across the country. U.S. Representatives Bonnie Coleman Watson, Donald Payne Jr., and Rob Menendez signed on to the Stronger Communities Through Better Transit Act, which would bring $2.3 billion in federal aid to NJ Transit, PATCO, and other smaller transit systems in the state. The legislation was introduced on Transit Equity Day and comes as the state’s largest public transit agency raises fares to meet an anticipated fiscal gap of $106 million by the middle of the year, which could grow to $800 million by the middle of 2026.
In Committee Hearing, Activists Call for Public Pension Fund to Divest from Fossil Fuels – In a Feb. 5 hearing of the Senate Environment and Energy Committee, climate activists from DivestNJ called on legislators to support S198, a bill which would require the NJ pension fund – which provides retirement benefits to 815,000 retired and current government workers – to divest from the 200 largest publicly traded fossil fuel companies. The advocates underscored the urgency of this measure given the effects of climate change already felt by residents of NJ, while opponents raised concerns about compromising NJ jobs tied to the fossil fuel industry as well as the health of the fund, which is among the nation’s worst-funded state pension plans. A formal committee vote on the legislation remains pending.
NJ Joins Nine State Pledge to Transition to Zero-Emission Heat Pumps – In a memorandum of understanding released on Feb. 7, NJ joined with eight other states to commit to making emission-free heat pumps account for 65% of all heating, cooling, and water heating equipment by 2030 – and 90% by 2040. Currently, electric heat pumps account for only about a quarter of the market in California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island. The NJ Board of Public Utilities is already developing incentives for homeowners to convert to electric heat pumps in order to meet Gov. Murphy’s goal to retrofit 400,000 residential homes and 200,000 commercial spaces with emissions-free heating and cooling systems, but critics are concerned with how this expansive transition will be funded.