Last-minute N.J. measures: Schools, sewers

Posted: January 10, 2012

TRENTON - Private companies will be allowed to build and manage a limited number of schools in Camden, Newark, and Trenton under a bill passed by the Legislature on Monday and sent to Gov. Christie for approval.

The measure was among dozens passed by the Democratic-controlled Assembly and Senate, then sent to Christie's desk as the two-year legislative period ended with a marathon voting session that lasted late into the night.

One of the session's more controversial pieces of legislation passed despite objections from environmentalists and the federal government. The bill delays implementation of limits to new sewer service in the state, effectively allowing developers to build in environmentally sensitive areas. Opponents said the bill, if signed by Christie, would increase water pollution.

The education measure, called the Urban Hope Act, would be the only education-overhaul bill the Republican governor was able to push through during his "year of education reform."

Endorsed by local Democratic power player George E. Norcross 3d and sponsored by his brother, Sen. Donald Norcross (D., Camden), the measure could lead to the construction of a school in Camden's Lanning Square neighborhood.

The New Jersey Education Association, the teachers' union that has opposed many of Christie's education-overhaul proposals, supported the bill calling for the pilot project after it underwent revisions on issues such as requiring teachers in the "renaissance" schools to be certified.

Others raised objections about a provision that would allow nonprofit operators of the alternative schools in the under-performing school districts to bypass public bidding laws. Opponents also complained that the bill in its current form was rushed to approval.

"The governor is extremely gratified that everyone necessary came together in support of this bill and got it done," Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an e-mail Monday night. "It truly will provide hope and opportunity for schoolchildren who may not otherwise have had a chance at a quality education we take for granted almost everywhere else."

Also headed to Christie's desk are bills that:

Allow towns and school districts to move school board and budget elections to November in an effort to save money and increase turnout. The measure allows school budgets to be approved automatically, without going to voters, if they are within the state's 2 percent cap on property-tax increases.

Send $4.1 million in additional school aid to districts that have had recent spikes in enrollment, most of them in South Jersey. Affected would be the Edgewater, Chesterfield, East Greenwich, Kingsway Regional, South Harrison, and Swedesboro-Woolwich districts.

Allow those delinquent on child-support payments to maintain their driving privileges in certain situations.

Eliminate the three-day waiting period to get a marriage license, as a means to help the state's wedding-tourism market.

Require the parent or guardian of a prospective driver under 18 applying for a driving permit to complete an online 90-minute teen-driver orientation program.

Allow pets to be included in court-issued protection orders after domestic-violence incidents.

By 11 p.m., a bill that would permit the direct shipping of wine to state residents by small New Jersey and out-of-state wineries had yet to be brought to a vote in either chamber.

Some bills died Monday. One would have permitted government entities to bypass newspapers and simply post legal notices on their websites. Also killed was a controversial measure that would have allowed commercial lumberjacks to cut and sell trees from state forests.

Christie signed a number of previously passed bills Monday, including one that requires 587 local authorities, boards, and commissions to establish Internet websites and post information about finances, meetings, and employees.

He also vetoed or conditionally vetoed several bills, including measures that would:

Allow pharmacies to sell up to 10 syringes without a prescription to people over 18. The bill also would eliminate criminal penalties for possession of syringes without a prescription. Christie agreed with the bill, but said he wanted lawmakers to add a provision that requires those who pick up needles to show identification, which would help ensure that minors aren't buying needles and would limit the distribution of syringes.

Revise requirements for the delivery of emergency medical services. Christie conditionally vetoed the bill, saying it warranted additional study because it could cost millions to implement. He asked that the state's health and senior services commissioner review the existing services and changes proposed in the bill and report back to him within six months.

Permit an eligible laid-off worker to continue receiving unemployment insurance benefits while placed in on-the-job training for six weeks. Christie said the bill was nearly identical to one he vetoed earlier this year. This bill would spend $3 million of "scarce taxpayer dollars" without "offering even a single cent of spending cuts to pay the way," Christie said, adding that the bill also ignored "robust" job training and incentive programs already offered in the state.

If the Legislature does not make the changes requested by Christie in his conditional vetoes by noon Tuesday, the bills must be reintroduced in the next session.

Likewise, the governor has until noon to conditionally veto any other measures passed. He has until next Tuesday to sign or outright veto the bills.

If he chooses not to act on a bill, an act known as the "pocket veto," it would die.

Contact staff writer Matt Katz at 609-217-8355,, or @mattkatz00 on Twitter. Read his blog, "Christie Chronicles," at

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