Elections and Public Administration

Priorities for ‘Lame Duck’ Session – Lawmakers have enjoyed an extended summer break since June 30, 2023. On Nov. 7, Democrats strengthened their control of the legislature, adding a net five Democrats to the Assembly. In the leadup to the new session in January, lawmakers will work through a backlog of legislation, and emboldened Democrats may push through other agendas. NJ Spotlight News suggests the legislature will consider the following topics over this period: clean energy, veterans’ homes, judicial vacancies, public education, social justice, NJ Transit funding, turnpike and parkway tolls, and mental health and addiction. In a virtual event on Nov. 8, social justice advocates called for lawmakers to prioritize legislation which supports Black and Brown communities, such as police reform and jury service. Currently, almost a quarter of the state’s Black population cannot serve on a jury. Bill S3043, introduced in September 2022, would address this by permitting the formerly incarcerated to serve on juries. (Source: NJ Spotlight News; NJ Spotlight News)

Salem and Manville Sell Infrastructure to NJ American Water – In a referendum on Nov. 7, over 60% of Salem, NJ voters chose to approve the sale of the town’s water and sewer systems to New Jersey American Water, the largest private water utility in the region. The town will resolve its debt with the $18 million sale, with the company promising to make $50 million in capital improvements over the next ten years. Opponents argue better leadership could improve bill collection and pursue infrastructure grants. In another election referendum, 80% of Manville, NJ voters opted to sell their sewer system to NJ American Water, which already owns their water system. (Sources: Business Wire, NJ Spotlight News)

Utilities Request Approval to Spend $1 billion to Modernize Power Grid – Three NJ utilities companies sought approval on Nov. 9 from the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) to spend more than $1 billion collectively on modernizing the power grid and reducing customers’ energy use. JCP&L’s plan – which should cost $935 million over five years – includes efforts to mitigate the effects of storms and natural disasters. PSE&G and NJNG requested extensions of their current energy efficiency programs. All seven NJ utilities must propose new energy efficiency programs by Dec. 1, 2023, and the director of the Division of Rate Counsel views the recent extension requests as a “bridge” which will give the BPU time to review and hold hearings on the new proposals. They expect the companies will request approval to spend billions of dollars, and BPU must approve the increase of consumers’ rates in order to pay for improvements. (Source: NJ Spotlight News)

State Lawmakers Call for More Oversight of Pet Stores – Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger and Sen. Vin Gopal called for legislation to increase oversight over pet stores in New Jersey, following an NJ Advance Media investigation. The report showed that at least eight of 18 stores licensed to sell dogs sourced puppies from breeders recently cited by federal or state agencies – often referred to as ‘puppy mills’ – and that new pet owners often did not know the origins of their recently purchased pets. State regulators had not recently inspected the stores, and federal agencies had not adequately overseen commercial breeding practices. One hundred forty-one municipalities have banned the sale of pets in brick-and-mortar stores, and State Sen. Brian Stack introduced legislation in Dec. 2022 that would initiate a state-wide ban. The NJ Coalition of Responsible Pet Stores opposes this legislation. (Source: NJ Spotlight News)

Black Bear Hunt Opponents Call Press Conference Ahead of Shotgun Season – Anti-bear hunt activists held a news conference on Zoom on Nov. 9, hoping to stop a December hunt aimed to curb overpopulation of black bears. Former state senator Raymond Lesniak filed a lawsuit to stop the hunt, which was dismissed by a superior court in October. The lawsuit argues that the Fish and Game Council operates unconstitutionally as a legislative body without being elected by the public. Sen. Lesniak has filed an appeal of the court’s decision, but an appellate decision may not arrive in time to halt the shotgun season which runs from Dec. 4-9.  The Division of Fish and Wildlife estimates there are 3,100 black bears in northwestern NJ, where black bear hunting is legal, but activists allege the number is far lower. Though New Jersey overall is home to relatively few black bears, the population of northwestern NJ has one of the highest concentrations of the species in the world. (Source: NJ Herald, NJ Herald)