N.J. to bankroll $100 M in electric buses, trucks to give residents relief from hazardous fumes

Gov. Phil Murphy plans to use a $100 million settlement — partly funded by an automaker accused of tampering with emissions equipment — to clear the air of diesel bus and truck fumes in some of the state’s largest cities to ease the burden of respiratory illness that residents now endure.

Officials plan to spend $100 million from two pots of environmental money to buy electric buses and trucks to provide relief to some of the state’s hardest-hit communities, Murphy announced Tuesday in Newark. The program includes funding for NJ Transit electric bus deployment.

Roll out of funding to fund zero emissions vehicles in Newark means that Kim Gaddy’s three asthmatic children will be able to breathe a little easier once they hit the road in Newark.

“The technology is here, all we have to have is the will to use it,” said Gaddy, Clean Water Action, environmental justice coordinator and member of the South Ward Environmental Alliance.

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‘One Property at a Time’: A City Tries to Revive Without Gentrifying

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Feb. 5, 2021

Marjorie Perry, a contractor, is one of the builders turning an abandoned bank into an apartment building and poets cafe.

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NEWARK — Construction workers in the South Ward of Newark, one of New Jersey’s most distressed areas, are busy converting a long-abandoned bank into an apartment building and poets cafe.

A decrepit mansion in the Central Ward built by a Newark beer baron before the turn of the 20th century is being revamped as a “makerhood,” a first-of-its-kind co-working residential and retail space.

Siree Morris, a developer, recently finished erecting six three-bedroom apartments on a formerly vacant lot. Next up: condos made from shipping containers and an affordable-housing complex named for his slain brother, Michael, on the street where they grew up.

While the downtown corridors of Newark, a poor industrial city burdened by decades of disinvestment, have been on the rebound for years, much of the rest of the city had been largely left behind.

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Broker Firm Offers Rent-Free Space to Newark Businesses for Limited Time

NEWARK, NJ — Rent-free commercial space on Spring Street is up for grabs to Newark’s small business owners trying to stay afloat in the pandemic. 

Aimed to provide assistance to Brick City’s small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Striker Apartment Leasing announced on Wednesday that they are currently offering three months of rent-free commercial space on 2 Spring St. to businesses who might be susceptible to downsizing during the current economic climate. 

“Striker is willing to work out deals for those in need,” said Michelle Streicher, broker of record at Striker Leasing. "We know small businesses are hurting right now, so we're willing to accommodate for the right tenants that are experiencing COVID-induced hiccups. We need those businesses in our communities and we have their back.”

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Loophole in workers’ comp cost NJ public pension system for years. Insurance companies benefited

JOHN REITMEYER, BUDGET/FINANCE WRITER | FEBRUARY 5, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

A long-standing loophole in workers’ compensation policy shifted “substantial” costs onto New Jersey’s already strained public employee pension system, according to a new report from a top state financial watchdog.

A precise estimate of the financial impact could not be determined, but the findings released on Thursday by the Office of the State Comptroller suggest insurance companies benefited the most from the loophole.

At the same time, the report determined the loophole effectively shifted more costs onto the pension system, which as of last year, was operating with a nearly $130 billion unfunded liability, according to estimates disclosed in recent state bond documents.

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If GOP isn’t serious about COVID relief, Biden must move on | Editorial

Posted Feb 03, 2021

The crisis President Biden faces is virtually unmatched in American history, and he has made it clear that he would like to address it with bipartisan muscle. In that spirit, he met with Senate Republicans to discuss a COVID relief bill Monday at the White House.

But it is hard to conclude from that two-hour powwow that the Republicans fully grasp what is needed for a pandemic-stricken country with a shipwrecked economy, and Biden and his Democratic majority must be prepared to move on to address an American desperation that has already red-lined.

The president’s $1.9 trillion proposal, called the American Rescue Plan, is a powerful package that targets virus control, vaccine distribution and prevents tens of millions of families from falling even deeper into poverty. It meets the urgency of the moment: It gets shots into arms, it protects small businesses, it fortifies the safety net for those out of work, it gets schools reopened, feeds the hungry, and saves lives.

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Pop-up sites, immunization vans to boost COVID-19 vaccinations among Blacks, communities of color

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | FEBRUARY 4, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

Jan. 29, 2021: Gov. Phil Murphy observes a COVID-19 vaccination being administered at the Meadowlands mega-site.

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With concern growing about the racial disparities in COVID-19 immunizations, Gov. Phil Murphy reiterated his commitment to equitable vaccine access Wednesday and said the state would establish vaccination sites at churches and community organizations to better reach Black and brown residents.

While Murphy offered no immediate details, the steps are part of the state Department of Health’s Vulnerable Populations Plan. The evolving strategy also envisions pop-up vaccination sites, immunization vans and “possibly door to door vaccination in cities hard hit by COVID-19,” DOH communications director Donna Leusner said Wednesday.

New Jersey officials are also working with drugstore chains CVS and Rite Aid to expand public access to coronavirus vaccines statewide, something Murphy said would launch next week and could particularly benefit underserved communities. State and local efforts are already underway to answer questions and address concerns raised by minority groups.

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N.J. court hears arguments in case that has stalled expansion of medical marijuana

Posted Feb 02, 2021

A three-judge appellate court panel heard arguments Tuesday in a case that has stalled the expansion of the New Jersey’s burdened medical marijuana program.

But the court must still issue a decision before the state can reopen its review of licenses that a lawsuit put on hold in late 2019.

The case involves eight rejected medical marijuana applicants from a round of licensing the Department of Health opened in 2019. The applicants in question lost out due to technical issues with their applications or because they had insufficient documents to show the town they wished to operate in approved of the business.

But they argue the department incorrectly rejected their applications during its first round of cuts and should reconsider them along with 146 others still in the running.

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NJ E-ZPass tolls: How about a 24-hour electronic reminder of charges?

JOHN REITMEYER, BUDGET/FINANCE WRITER | FEBRUARY 3, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

Toll signage on the New Jersey Turnpike in Carneys Point

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Drivers who use E-ZPass on New Jersey’s major toll roads should be able to get electronic notifications each time their account is charged, say lawmakers now trying to make that happen.

Their effort comes as highway tolls have increased in recent months and as toll-road operators have indicated a desire to expand cashless tolling.

Under current law, New Jersey’s E-ZPass system gives motorists the option of viewing a list of their latest toll transactions online. They can also receive monthly or bimonthly statements, via email or letter.

But legislation easily passed by the state Senate last week would force the operators of the Garden State Parkway, New Jersey Turnpike and Atlantic City Expressway to begin offering New Jersey E-ZPass customers the option of receiving an email, text or other form of electronic notification within a day of being tolled.

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Federal mask mandate starts Tuesday. Here are the rules.

Posted Feb 01, 2021

Riding the train, bus or plane? Make sure you’re masked up by midnight.

If you haven’t been wearing a facial covering on public transit, airliners or in federal buildings, the federal government is officially telling you to mask-up or else.

An executive order mandating the wearing of masks on transportation vehicles and stations or airport and in federal buildings takes effect at 11:59 p.m., Feb. 1 to slow the spread of coronavirus.

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NJ education leaders pushing for federal waiver of school testing requirements

JOHN MOONEY, EDUCATION WRITER | FEBRUARY 2, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

 

Not even a pandemic has slowed the debate over state standardized testing in New Jersey, and in fact it may have only heightened it

It was most recently touched off when the Murphy administration last week quietly sent out a memo to districts to continue to prepare for this spring’s Student Learning Assessments (SLA) testing, even if it has to be done remotely due to the pandemic.

The annual testing had been suspended last spring due to the shuttering of all schools, but the state Department of Education last week said it was proceeding with the testing for this year, starting in March, in the absence of the federal government permitting otherwise.

Yet later in the week, the caveat in that decision got a lot bigger, as the federal Department of Education alerted states that it would indeed accept amendments to their testing plans for the spring. The directive was not an outright guarantee that the feds would allow testing to be suspended for another year but at least an invitation to the idea of an alternative. A Feb. 1 deadline for applications was extended to an undetermined date, and several states — including New York and Michigan — have already said they will seek the waiver.

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