Assembly Education Committee Advances ‘Freedom to Read’ Bill – The Assembly Education Committee advanced on June 6 A3446, a bill which requires local districts to create policies on book curation in school and public libraries that bar the removal of books based on authors’ backgrounds, origins, or views. The legislation would also make librarians immune to civil or criminal sanctions when acting in good faith. The legislation responds to recent pushes from religious and anti-LGBT groups to eliminate books relating to gender and sexuality from libraries’ collections. Its Senate equivalent remains pending.

Senate Education Committee Hears Testimony on Preschool Mixed-Delivery System – In a June 3 committee meeting, the Senate Education Committee heard testimony on how to best provide preschool programs through a mixed-delivery model. The model makes preschool publicly accessible through a combination of public programs and publicly funded slots at private programs. While many spoke in support of the model’s expansion of access to preschool, some providers expressed that barriers to service provision include the failure of school boards to fulfill their contracts, staffing, transportation, limited school partnerships, and a lack of supportive services. This testimony should guide a new policy.



State Department of Environment Protection Recommends to Remove Bald Eagles and Osprey from Endangered List – The NJ Department of Environmental Protection announced on June 3 its recommendation to remove the bald eagle and osprey from the state’s list of endangered species. Bald eagles nearly went extinct in the 1970s following decades of habitat loss and the use of the toxic, now-banned pesticide DDT.  DDT use also greatly diminished the state’s osprey population. Careful nest management and new laws for habitat preservation have stimulated population growth in both species. Bald eagles will now be classified as a species of special concern, as the population will still require close monitoring, while ospreys will now be classified as stable. 



Senate Advances Bill to Allow Medical Psilocybin Use – Shelving a plan to decriminalize the use of psilocybin or mushrooms producing a psychedelic effect, the Senate Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee to advance S2283 instead on June 6. This bill would allow the drug’s use for the purposes of therapy and preventative behavioral health treatment. The proposal responds to growing research on psilocybin’s healing potential as well as increasing support for its use. The bill’s assembly equivalent remains pending.


Public Administration

Gov. Murphy Signs into Law Controversial Amendment to Open Public Records Act – On June 5, Gov. Murphy signed into law S2930/A4045, codified as P.L.2024, c.16., a contested change to the 2002 Open Public Records Act (OPRA), which requires state, local, and government entities to share their records with the public. The legislation aims to reduce the burden of a high volume of records requests on government entities, particularly from commercial entities looking to expand their business prospects. A coalition of journalists, transparency advocates, and good government groups argued the amendments would compromise governmental transparency and enable corruption. In particular, many have voiced concerns over an end to fee-shifting, a policy which required the government to pay the legal fees of a requestor who successfully sued over a denied records request. Concerns were also raised regarding an amendment that will allow governments to sue requestors they believe are attempting to interfere with government operations as well as new exemptions to shield personal identifying information on certain documents. The Governor stated he finds the legislation’s safeguards, as well as the regulatory power of courts and the Government Records Council, sufficient to mitigate these concerns.

Primary Results Demonstrate Impact of Ballots without Party Lines – The results of NJ’s June 4 primary election demonstrated that the absence of the party line on Democratic and some Republican ballots had some effect. The party line, a ballot design unique to NJ, gives preferential placement to candidates endorsed by county parties. U.S. Rep. Andy Kim, now the Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, sued to stop its use, and a judge granted an emergency injunction to remove the line from the ballot in the June Democratic primaries. Initial analyses showed that although most county party-endorsed candidates won easy victories, they won with a smaller share of the vote than in previous elections – particularly in races without an incumbent candidate. The Republican senate race affirmed the impact of the removal of the party line. In the race for U.S. Senate, candidate Curtis Bashaw won in all the counties where the county party had endorsed him – but he won by the smallest margin in Burlington County, the one county without a party line ballot in the Republican primary. Rep. Andy Kim’s lawsuit against the design remains pending.



NY Gov. Hochul Halts Congestion Pricing Implementation – On June 5, NY Gov. Kathy Hochul announced an indefinite pause of the congestion pricing plan which was set to start June 30. The plan would charge vehicles a base rate of $15 to enter Manhattan below 60th street with the aim of reducing traffic and raising money for capital improvements to New York City’s transportation infrastructure. The plan had faced much opposition, including from the state of NJ, which has sued to stop its implementation. To explain her decision, Hochul stated the plan would slow midtown Manhattan’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Her authority to unilaterally end the plan remains under question. Gov. Murphy thanked Gov. Hochul for her action to stop congestion pricing, emphasizing in his statement their shared interest in growing the regional economy. 

Public Information Session on Turnpike Expansion Plan Sees Support and Opposition – A May 28 public information session hosted by the NJ Turnpike Authority in Bayonne saw mixed responses to a $10 billion plan to upgrade and widen parts of an 8-mile stretch of the Turnpike in north Jersey and replace 29 bridges along the route. The Authority stated the current infrastructure could not handle modern-day traffic. While some praised the plan’s potential to alleviate traffic and create 25,000 jobs, others voiced concerns over the possibility of land acquisition through eminent domain. A group organized by Empower NJ rallied outside ahead of the meeting, demonstrating their opposition to the project based on environmental and public health concerns.