New president, new plans. What Biden means for NJ

NJ SPOTLIGHT NEWS | JANUARY 20, 2021 

Jan. 19, 2021: President-elect Joe Biden speaks at the Major Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III National Guard/Reserve Center in New Castle, Delaware.

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When he becomes president Wednesday, Joseph Biden is expected to make immediate changes in policy areas upended by President Trump — first through executive orders, then through an aggressive push with a Congress controlled by Democrats.

Up first, as Biden has promised, is an overhaul in the nation’s response to COVID-19 and its rollout of the needed vaccines. Then a return to work combating climate change. Beyond that, a new Biden administration is expected to have broad impact on life in New Jersey. From finances to climate to COVID-19, NJ Spotlight News looks at key areas where Biden is said to be making changes.

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COVID-19 vaccines: How NJ tries to juggle supply and demand

LILO H. STAINTON, HEALTH CARE WRITER | JANUARY 19, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

Jan. 15, 2021: Linda Leeman gets vaccinated at the Edison Vaccination Facility.

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In New Jersey, COVID-19 vaccines are now available at more than 160 locations — including hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers and government-run clinics — and four of the state’s planned six mega-sites are now immunizing eligible individuals.

But six weeks after the first New Jersey resident got her initial dose, the statewide operation continues to run at far less than full speed. Concerns include public confusion, a complex sign-up system, an initial workforce shortage in some places, and perhaps the biggest hurdle of all, not enough vaccines to meet the demand.

“We’ve got plenty of people (to administer vaccines), it’s not an issue” at the Gloucester County mega-site, state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), a former county freeholder, told NJ Spotlight News last week. “We just need the vaccine,” he said. “We’ve really got to step it up now.”

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Fearing inside attack, FBI vetting Guard troops in D.C.

WASHINGTON — U.S. defense officials say they are worried about an insider attack or other threat from service members involved in securing President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, prompting the FBI to vet all of the 25,000 National Guard troops coming into Washington for the event.

The massive undertaking reflects the extraordinary security concerns that have gripped Washington following the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rioters. And it underscores fears that some of the very people assigned to protect the city over the next several days could present a threat to the incoming president and other VIPs in attendance.

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The new bridge: At last, a portal to progress | Editorial

Posted Jan 18, 2021

We interrupt this tawdry news cycle for a hallelujah moment:

They have finally secured the funds needed to replace that swiveling, creaking disaster from the Taft Administration known as the Portal Bridge, the 110-year-old old rail link that is neither portal nor bridge when it gets stuck in the open position – which, as 200,000 daily riders on NJ Transit know, happens often enough to make their Manhattan commute a soul-crushing experience.

The swing-style contraption spanning the Hackensack River will be replaced with a fixed, high-level, $1.8 billion span, and NJ Transit will soon solicit bids for what should be a 5-year construction. It will convert a classic choke point into a modern link that will keep the Northeast Corridor — and the regional economy —  humming faster than 1910 bridge technology had allowed.

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Op-Ed: Lessons from Newark’s aggressive replacement of lead service lines

RAS J. BARAKA | JANUARY 18, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

Ras J. Baraka

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The first major changes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Lead and Copper Rule, which are designed to reduce lead traces in drinking water, were announced before Christmas, to give cities plagued by high lead levels some guidelines and goals.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new rules were a top priority to “accelerate reductions of lead in drinking water to better protect our children and communities.”

Acceleration is the operative word. This problem, like many health issues, disproportionately affects Black and brown people in older homes in cities across America, but lead is found in drinking water indiscriminately, in suburbs and rural communities alike.

Among the new rules is the gradual removal of lead service lines that connect individual homes and buildings to the water mains, giving municipalities a 33-year window for full replacement.

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Smokers in N.J. Are Eligible for Vaccine. No Proof Needed.

Tracey Tully and 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

Jan. 15, 2021

A vaccination clinic in Teaneck, N.J., run by Holy Name Medical Center, has the ability to administer 3,000 doses a day. But it needs more vaccine.

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Faced with soaring rates of coronavirus infection and more doses of vaccine in freezers than in arms, New Jersey officials made a calculated choice.

They opened the floodgates of vaccine eligibility on Thursday to about 4.5 million additional residents: those 65 and older and younger people with underlying health problems, including cancer, heart conditions and diabetes — diseases that can lead to severe complications from Covid-19.

As part of the expansion, New Jersey also became only the second state in the country to open vaccinations to another high-risk group — smokers. As is true for all Covid-19 vaccinations in New Jersey, no documentation of an underlying health condition is required.

The announcement came a day after the Trump administration told states to expand eligibility and to quickly use existing vaccine or risk losing future allocations.

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For many in N.J., MLK Day holds special meaning after Capitol attack

Posted Jan 16, 2021

Like Thanksgiving, New Year’s and every other holiday since last spring, Martin Luther King Jr. Day will be celebrated differently this year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic: at a social distance; behind masks; virtually; and for some maybe not at all.

But there is something uniquely poignant about this year’s federal holiday marking the birth of America’s foremost civil rights leader, in that it comes less than two weeks after an attack on the U.S. Capitol by a mob that flashed symbols of racial terror in its lust to upend the democratic process that King gave his life trying to make accessible to all.

“Martin Luther King was about expanding democracy,” said Lawrence Hamm, chairman of the People’s Organization for Progress civil rights group, who on Saturday will lead a march in Newark marking the holiday. “There was a whole segment of the population of the United States, African Americans, whose voting rights, whose civil rights, were being denied.”

King, who pressed for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and was there when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it, was born on Jan. 15, 1929, though the holiday is celebrated on the third Monday of January, regardless of the date. He would be 92 on Friday had he lived.

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New Jersey state offices will close on Inauguration Day, ‘given the level of tension’

01/15/2021

Politico

The New Jersey state capitol.

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New Jersey state offices will close their doors on Jan. 20, Inauguration Day, and state employees will work remotely in anticipation of possible unrest in Trenton, Gov. Phil Murphy announced Friday.

“We felt that was the right thing to do given the level of tension right now in the country,” Murphy said the end of his regular coronavirus briefing in Trenton.

“We just thought to help us facilitate any security response measures, the fewer folks in and around Trenton the better," state Police Superintendent Pat Callahan said.

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N.J. sues U.S. military, wants feds to pay for tainted drinking water cleanup

Posted Jan 14, 2021

For decades, the U.S. military used a special foam to fight fires on bases around the Garden State. That foam, and the toxic chemicals inside it, slowly seeped into the surrounding area and throughout groundwater supplies, according to New Jersey authorities, compromising the safety of nearby drinking water.

Now, New Jersey wants Uncle Sam to clean up the mess.

On Thursday, the state Attorney General’s office and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection announced a lawsuit against the federal government over long-standing water pollution on and near military bases in the Garden State.

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Workgroup proposes remedies for ‘toxic’ culture, sexual harassment in NJ politics

COLLEEN O'DEA, SENIOR WRITER | JANUARY 15, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

Feb 11, 2020: The first hearing of the Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics

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New Jersey’s political parties and campaigns should adopt anti-harassment policies and the state’s election watchdog should get the power to investigate allegations of sexual assault and harassment in political campaigns, parties and lobbying, a committee investigating the state’s toxic political climate recommended.

The ad hoc Workgroup on Harassment, Sexual Assault and Misogyny in New Jersey Politics was created a year ago in the wake of allegations of assault and misogyny against then-candidate Phil Murphy’s gubernatorial campaign and a news report on the political culture in the state. Its 76-page report, released Thursday, followed several public hearings and discussions.

Other recommendations include requiring all elected officials, candidates, party officials and workers to complete anti-harassment training, prohibiting practices that would keep complaints secret, monitoring events that have proven particularly problematic and enacting a package of bills to improve the treatment of assault victims by the criminal justice system.

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