Legislators Advance Measures to Address Teacher Shortage – On May 20, the state Senate passed two pieces of legislation to alleviate NJ’s teacher shortage.  S1287 would bar officials from requiring teaching candidates to pass a basic skills test to obtain teaching certification. Some testing requirements would remain for candidates in specific subject areas. The bill would also repeal a months-old law establishing an alternative pathway to teaching certification without passing the basic skills test. The Assembly advanced the legislation in March but must now approve the bill’s amendments before it may advance to Gov. Murphy. The Senate also passed S2181, which would waive for a period of three years the state’s residency requirement for teachers, as long as the post is advertised to in-state residents for three months before hiring an out-of-state candidate. The bill’s Assembly equivalent has not advanced since its introduction in January.


Public Administration

State Releases New Unemployment Insurance Application System – The state released an improved unemployment insurance application system last month which has led to reduced errors and the need for human intervention. The changes form a part of a federal pilot program, the Claimant Experience Pilot, and respond to user feedback, particularly from those who tried to access benefits while unemployed in the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The improvements include the ability to save one’s progress, fewer questions, a Spanish-language application, a mobile-friendly version, and a personalized homepage. NJ received $25 million in federal funding for the improvements. This will serve as a blueprint for 18 other states seeking to streamline their unemployment insurance application systems. 

State Signals Interest in Preserving Farmland from Warehouse Development – On May 30, the state purchased a 566-acre parcel of farmland slated for warehouse development in White Township, Warren County, for $27.2 million. The state’s purchase constituted a victory for the advocacy group Citizens for Sustainable Development and indicated that the state may support the preservation of agricultural land. Susan Payne, executive director of the State Agriculture Development Committee, explained that the parcel formed part of an agricultural district; lay in an area of environmental sensitivity; and lacked the infrastructure needed for warehouse development. Payne added, however, that municipalities must address concerns about warehouse development by updating zoning codes, as New Jersey is a home-rule state. Nearly two dozen bills to address the warehouse boom are pending in the state legislature.

Advocates Rally for Gun Safety Reform Legislation – On May 22, advocates with Moms Demand Action rallied outside of the Trenton statehouse to demand legislation for gun control. The group recently helped to pass a new law to increase punishment for the illegal trafficking of guns used to kill or injure a person. Advocates called attention to three pieces of legislation: A931/S3281 would increase from 18 to 21 the age at which a person can receive a firearms purchaser identification; A843/S1145 would tighten the requirements for gun permits; and A4021/S1407 would allow Medicaid funding to be used for community violence prevention services. All three bills remain pending in the legislature. 



Law Enabling Over-the-Counter Birth Control Goes into Effect – On May 20, a law went into effect which authorized the sale of birth control pills, rings, and patches without a prescription in NJ. The state joins at least 29 others allowing over-the-counter birth control sales. This change forms a part of state Democrats’ efforts to protect reproductive rights following the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision that ended the federal right to abortion. Though Gov. Murphy signed the legislation in January 2023, a process to finalize rules delayed its implementation. Pharmacists must conduct health screenings to check for possible risks and, therefore, must undergo training before they can make over-the-counter birth control sales. Five pharmacies are ready to make sales. At the same time, the state Division of Consumer Affairs stated it would release a list of participating pharmacy locations once ready. The CVS pharmacy chain plans to implement the law. The chain already offers Overill, a progesterone-based birth control pill approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for over-the-counter sales. 

State Supreme Court Decision Places Check on Family Court Child Visitation Bars – The NJ Supreme Court ruled on May 29 that the state’s family courts cannot leave in place restraints which bar a parent from seeing their child after closing cases regarding a parent’s fitness to care for their child. Closing a family separation case without ending restraints on parent-child contact means parents must battle these restrictions without access to state-appointed counsel, which may violate their due process rights. Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis delivered the decision, which held these cases should not be ended until it is determined that services and supervision by the courts and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency are no longer required to guarantee the child’s safety. The decision also recommended the state amend the portion of its code, which requires the Division to make weekly or monthly visits to children in its care, as these frequent visits are disruptive. 

Supreme Court Declines Expansion of Criminal Justice Rights to Young Adults over 18 – On May 31, a NJ Appeals Court issued a decision which declined to expand resentencing rights to young adults over 18. Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court limit life sentences without the possibility of parole for people under 18, and a 2022 NJ Supreme Court decision established that people convicted of committing crimes when they are under 18 have the right to resentencing after 20 years of incarceration. These decisions follow research that young people may experience poor impulse control because their brains are not fully developed. Appellants Sean Jones, Timothy Harris, and Richard Roche, convicted of committing crimes when they were between the ages of 18 and 20, applied the same argument, but the court noted that while 18 is an arbitrary age, “a line must be drawn.”