‘It was a very sad day.’ Top Republican says his colleagues’ actions marred N.J. Assembly’s voting session.

Published: Dec. 21, 2021

If you weren’t up late Monday night checking New Jersey political news, you may have missed the chaos of the final state Assembly voting session of the year.

As the lower house of the state Legislature considered upward of 140 bills, voting proved to be a very tedious process that took nearly 11 hours, with the session dragging on until just after midnight. The pace was partially because more than a fourth of the members voted over the phone amid the coronavirus pandemic, leading to logistical issues.

But the biggest delay was caused by a handful of Republicans who slowed the session down with a filibuster of sorts, commenting on almost every bill as they voted remotely. It wasn’t just measures they opposed or supported. They had lengthy discussions about both intricacies of legislation and sometimes only slightly related topics, touching on everything from the Battle of Trenton to the type of corn grown in the Garden State.

The drama came just hours after State Police troopers blocked the small group of GOP legislators — members of the minority party in Trenton — from entering the Statehouse by locking the doors because the lawmakers refused to comply with the building’s COVID-19 vaccine policy. The half-dozen lawmakers chose to vote via phone instead after a judge rejected a last-minute court motion they filed to stop enforcement of the rules, which they see as discriminatory and unconstitutional.

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Seven NJ Superfund sites to get new money for cleanup

JON HURDLE, CONTRIBUTING WRITER | DECEMBER 22, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

March 22, 2013, at Superfund site in Garfield where toxic hexavalent chromium was spilled

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New federal funding from President Biden’s infrastructure law is on the way to revive the long-delayed cleanups of seven Superfund sites in New Jersey, but it is still just a small dent in the state’s standing as having the most such badly polluted sites in the country.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday announced the seven New Jersey sites among 49 nationwide that will share $1 billion as the first tranche of funding from the new law to help clean up a legacy of industrial contamination that threatens human health and fouls the environment from coast to coast. In total, the law allocated $3.5 billion for Superfund cleanup.

In New Jersey, the need to remove toxins like lead, chromium and PCBs is particularly acute because about half the population lives within three miles of a Superfund site; many affected residents are people of color from communities deemed especially hard-hit.

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N.J. adopts California’s clean truck rules meant to reduce number of diesels on the road

Published: Dec. 20, 2021

State Environmental Protection officials adopted Advanced Clean Truck rules Monday that would make New Jersey the first east coast state to require phasing in of electric commercial trucks to reduce air pollution and the diseases it causes.

The Advanced Clean Truck rule is modeled after regulations established in California and nearing adoption in several other states. The program is intended to increase the number of electric or zero-emissions trucks in the state.

Environmentalists said residents living in some of the state’s poorest communities, who bear the brunt of air pollution and the respiratory diseases it causes, will benefit the most from the new truck rules.

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Testy day in Trenton: Assembly Republicans obstruct Dems’ legislative plans

COLLEEN O'DEA, SENIOR WRITER AND PROJECTS EDITOR | DECEMBER 21, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

New Jersey State House

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New Jersey’s Democratic-led Legislature on Monday started the last session of 2021 with more than 250 measures on the agenda,  but Republicans made certain things weren’t going to happen either quickly or smoothly in the Assembly.

For bill after bill, a small number of Republican Assembly members used their time to either object to the Democrats’ pandemic-driven rules for accessing the State House or to praise a measure, in all cases  slowing the progress on even the most minor of bills.

Some work still did get done, including the approval of new gun control legislation and agreement with some conditional vetoes issued by Gov. Phil Murphy on matters ranging from police review of body-worn camera footage to insurance coverage of telemedicine visits.

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N.J.’s largest city will require face masks indoors as COVID cases ramp up

Published: Dec. 20, 2021

New Jersey’s largest city is now requiring face masks be worn indoors in all public settings — a step beyond current state requirements that “strongly recommend” coverings regardless of COVID-19 vaccination status.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka made the mandate official hours after the state announced over 6,000 cases for the sixth consecutive day.

“We are still in the midst of a pandemic and need to take whatever steps are necessary to safeguard and best ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our residents,” Baraka said in a statement Monday afternoon. “I urge residents to take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Get vaccinated and tested, especially during this holiday season, as we gather and spend more time with family and friends.”

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Rule tweak makes paying for Hudson tunnel easier

JOHN REITMEYER, BUDGET/FINANCE WRITER | DECEMBER 20, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

The North River Tunnel under the Hudson connects New York and New Jersey and carries Amtrak and NJ Transit passengers making 200,000 daily trips.

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A recently enacted federal infrastructure law set aside significant funding for mass-transit projects like a long-planned new rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

But a more subtle policy change included in the same law could also make it easier for New Jersey to cover its share of the funding for the tunnel project.

Among many new policy wrinkles written into the infrastructure bill as it moved through Congress earlier this year was a proposal to give low-interest federal-loan recipients more time to pay back what they borrow from the government.

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Cory Booker tests positive for COVID, he says

As new coronavirus cases spike due to the omicron variant, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker said Sunday that he tested positive for COVID-19.

Booker said in a statement that he took a test after he first had symptoms of the virus on Saturday.

“Fortunately, my symptoms are relatively mild,” Booker said. “I’m beyond grateful to have received two doses of vaccine and, more recently, a booster. I’m certain that without them I would be doing much worse. I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated and boosted.”

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As COVID grows in N.J., Murphy says ‘everything on the table’ in fight to contain its renewed spread

Published: Dec. 17, 2021

With COVID-19 cases once again soaring in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy said the state could soon face new restrictions in response to a deadly pandemic that is once more growing.

“My fear is we’re going to be getting back to capacity limits at some point,” Murphy said during an unrelated press event at Port Newark on Friday, where he warned “this thing is still with us and sadly, the numbers are still going up.”

Earlier on Friday, the state reported another 16 confirmed COVID-19 deaths and 6,260 confirmed cases. It marked the first time New Jersey health officials marked back-to-back days of more than 6,000 confirmed positive tests in the 21 months since the pandemic began.

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Acting Attorney General announces racial justice efforts, anti-discrimination policy for 720K workers

Published: Dec. 16, 2021

New Jersey Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck on Thursday announced a range of initiatives he said would promote racial justice, including anti-discrimination regulations covering 720,000 state licensed professionals and prioritizing racial justice in civil enforcement.

As attorney general, Bruck heads the state Department of Law and Public Safety, a 17-division agency with sweeping authority over areas ranging from law enforcement policy, public corruption, the New Jersey State Police and licensed professionals to horse racing regulations, alcoholic beverage control and juvenile justice, among others.

“While the Department of Law and Public Safety cannot fix longstanding racial disparities and injustices on its own, we have a moral obligation to use the tremendous reach of the department to achieve the maximum impact in promoting racial justice,” Bruck said in a statement.

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Quarantined students — out of school, out of reach of help if they need it

JOHN MOONEY, EDUCATION WRITER | DECEMBER 17, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

Just 9% of Newark students in grades 2-8 met math expectations last school year, according to test data. It’s the first indication of how much the pandemic decimated Newark students’ learning.

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For many schools across New Jersey, one of the recent challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has not been the number of students infected by the virus but the number quarantined to avoid any spread.

“These kids are sitting at home and many of them struggling,” said Charles Sampson, superintendent of Freehold Regional High Schools at a meeting this week of suburban school leaders.

“Our schools, our discipline, our suicide ideation and high-end disciplinary actions are unlike anything I have ever seen in my six high schools,” Sampson said. “It is probably quadrupled, and frankly I attribute that to students being home and being detached from schools.”

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