Proposed Legislation Would Establish Task Force to Reexamine Teacher Evaluations – An effort to shift the process to evaluate public school teachers and principals failed to pass in the lame duck session. While some – including the largest teachers’ union in the state, the NJ Education Association – supported an effort to increase the time in between evaluations from one to up to three years, others pushed back against this change. A1598, introduced on Jan. 9, 2024, would establish a 12-member New Jersey Educator Evaluation Review Task Force to gather and analyze data and present recommendations regarding the teacher evaluation process. Many hope that changes to this process could address teacher retention and recruitment issues which are exacerbated by the administrative burden of evaluation.
Assembly Advances Bill to Overhaul Affordable Housing System – On Jan. 29, the Assembly Housing Committee advanced A4, the Assembly equivalent of S50, which would abolish the defunct Council on Affordable Housing and transform the state’s system to establish municipal obligations to provide affordable housing under the Mount Laurel Doctrine. The legislation is part of a package to address the affordable housing shortage in the state. Now both bills face review in budget and appropriations committees before a vote by each full legislative body.
Bill Advances to Ban Discrimination Based on Height and Weight – S1602, which would prohibit discrimination based on height or weight, passed the Senate Labor Committee on Jan. 25. The bill would add these prohibitions to the state’s Law Against Discrimination and includes a provision to allow employers to refuse to hire someone if these characteristics would prevent the person from performing work. NJ would become the second state, after Michigan, to seek to address bias against people based on height and weight.
Lawmakers Seek to Establish NJ Transit Rider Advocate Commission – S1190, which would establish a NJ Transit Office of Customer Advocate and Rider Advocacy Commission, passed the Senate Transportation Committee and was referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on Jan. 25. The commission would form a part of the Department of Transportation; comprise three members appointed by the Governor, Assembly Speaker, and Senate President; and appoint a rider advocate to head a customer advocacy office which would conduct independent investigations and represent the interests of NJ Transit customers. The development follows news of a 15% fare hike for NJ Transit riders set to start in July, which advocates argue will most affect people of color and low-income riders. The bill would eliminate a customer advocate position on the NJ Transit board, as sponsors argue that an autonomous rider advocate and commission would better hold the agency accountable.
Port Authority Moves Forward with $10 Billion Bus Terminal Redesign – The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced on Feb. 1 that it had received federal approval of a draft environmental impact plan to transform its Manhattan bus terminal to accommodate projected commuter growth. The project will advance in two stages, set to begin at the end of 2024 with the building of a staging and storage facility to allow ridership during the construction of the new, 2-million square foot facility. The announcement prompts the beginning of a 45-day public comment period, with three scheduled public hearings on Feb. 20, 21, and 22.
Senate Committee Discusses Constitutional Amendment to Sunset Fossil Fuel Plants – The Senate Environment and Energy Committee will hold a discussion on Feb. 5 to consider SCR11, a constitutional amendment which would prohibit the creation or reactivation of fossil fuel plants, allowing existing plants to run only through the end of their life cycles. The amendment would ensure the phasing out of fossil fuel power plants in the state. Changes to the state constitution must be approved first by lawmakers and then by voters through public referendum. Lawmakers expect the Committee will vote on the amendment bill and related legislation in its next meeting.
NJ AG Appeals to State Supreme Court to Stop Tax Break for Nuclear Energy Company, Holtec – On Feb. 1, the NJ Attorney General submitted to the state Supreme Court an appeal to stop Camden nuclear technology firm Holtec from continuing to receive tax breaks from the NJ Economic Development Authority (EDA). The EDA granted Holtec a $260 million tax break – the largest in state history – in 2014 to assist the company in bringing jobs to Camden, but the Authority froze those payments when it learned that the company had not disclosed a history of misconduct on its application form. Holtec sued, and an Appellate court ruled in their favor in Dec. 2023, arguing the EDA’s application form was unclear. The AG argues the decision may undermine state contract law and encourage businesses to deceive the state.