Lawmakers Abandon Plan to Subsidize Private School Tuition – Sponsors of the proposed New Jersey Student Support Act withdrew the bill following widespread stakeholder opposition. The bill would have directed the state to spend $37.5 million annually on tax credits to enable students to attend private school. Taxpayers could claim credit for contributing to organizations offering scholarships to students whose families make less than 2.6 times the federal income guidelines to qualify for reduced lunch, enabling low-income families to pay for private school with public funds. Critics called the plan a school voucher program, which would redirect funding from public programs to private education, including schools that may openly discriminate against certain groups. Lawmakers and advocates say the discussion on school choice will continue past this failed initiative.

Senate Education Committee Advances Legislation to Improve Literacy Rates – On June 20, the Senate Education Committee unanimously advanced S2644, a bill to promote literacy amid decreased rates following the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among marginalized groups. The legislation would require the Department of Education (DOE) to create a literacy working group to recommend best practices for teaching students to read, mandate universal literacy screenings for all students in kindergarten through third grade, and create a free professional development program for teachers to learn evidence-based literacy instruction. The bill now faces review in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. It may be complemented by other pending legislation such as S2647, which would create an Office of Learning Equity and Academic Recovery within the DOE.

Public Administration

Executive Order Establishes Task Force to Curb Gambling Addiction – On June 14, Gov. Murphy issued Executive Order No. 360, establishing a task force to evaluate the impact of gambling on young and vulnerable populations and review regulations regarding responsible gaming. The legislation responds to growing levels of gaming addiction: the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey reported calls to their helpline have increased nearly threefold since the legalization of sports betting in 2018. The task force must submit its report by March 2025. In the meantime, lawmakers hope to advance pending legislation aimed at curbing gambling addiction. 

Legislation Establishing Cooling Centers Place Stuck on Funding – A2258/S2346, proposed in January, would create a ‘Code Red’ pilot program for three years to shelter at-risk people experiencing homelessness during extreme heat or poor air quality conditions. The Office of Legislative Services estimates the program would cost $6 million over three years. Though shelters may be reimbursed at the end of the pilot period, they argue the state needs to make a more substantial investment to adequately cover transportation and other ancillary costs. The bill advanced to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee on June 20. 

Murphy Signs Executive Order to Expand Access to Clemency – On June 19, Gov. Murphy issued Executive Order No. 362, establishing a six-member board to review clemency applications with the aim of expanding access to relief beyond those with connections to the governor. The board would issue non-binding recommendations to expedite clemency requests. Applications for pardons post-incarceration would be subject to a two-pronged test based on time and the type of offense for which the applicant seeks a pardon. Those currently incarcerated would be eligible for expedited review if they were a victim of sex trafficking or domestic violence, if their sentence was excessive, or if the crime for which they were convicted is no longer illegal or carries a lighter punishment. Murphy expects the first set of clemencies to come within six months; he has not issued any pardons since taking office in early 2018. 

Appellate Panel Affirms Constitutionality of Police Searches of Locked Glove Boxes – In a June 12 decision, a three-judge appellate panel ruled that police officers may search locked glove boxes in vehicles without a warrant. Defendants argued that evidence arising from a warrantless search of their locked glove compartment should be suppressed, as searching a locked container while a vehicle is running would violate NJ and federal constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The judges rejected their argument, stating that it would eviscerate the ‘automobile exception,’ which allows warrantless searches in order to prevent the destruction or concealment of evidence.