How did a push to cut unfair criminal sentences clash with corruption? N.J. politics!

Posted Apr 25, 2021

Call it a classic tale of Jersey politics.

It all began with a criminal justice movement to change decades-old policy that forced thousands behind bars for long periods of time, even if judges or prosecutors preferred more lenient punishment: New Jersey law mandating minimum prison sentences for a wide range of crimes.

A bi-partisan commission Gov. Phil Murphy formed when he first took office recommended reforms that were drafted in a bill and moved through the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

But then a powerful lawmaker, Sen. Nicholas Sacco, D-Hudson, quietly added official misconduct — a crime that includes political corruption — to the list of offenses that would no longer be subject to mandatory minimums.

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Here’s what Murphy just said about outdoor masks in N.J.

Posted Apr 23, 2021

It’s been nearly 10 months since Gov. Phil Murphy ordered people in New Jersey to wear masks not just indoors but also outdoors in public when they can’t practice social distancing to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

But now that nearby Connecticut is set to lift all outdoor safety restrictions May 1 and with numbers improving here, is Murphy considering lifting the outdoor mask mandate in the Garden State?

Not yet.

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N.J. can follow California’s tougher car emissions standards again, Biden administration says

Posted Apr 22, 2021

New Jersey once again would be allowed to follow tougher California standards for automobile emissions under a proposed rule announced Thursday.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration marked Earth Day by proposing to allow states to set their own standards once again. New Jersey is one of 13 states that follow California’s more stringent rules for emissions that Trump administration sought to pre-empt with a weaker one-size, fits-all federal standard.

“States have been leading the way, especially over the last four years, when it comes to cleaning up pollution and addressing climate change,” NHTSA Acting Administrator Steven Cliff said. “NHTSA’s proposed rule would remove unnecessary barriers to state leadership in regulating greenhouse gases and other air pollutants that spew from the tailpipes of cars.”

The action was part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s effort to combat climate change.

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N.J. county to close most of its jail, send inmates to nearby facility

Posted Apr 22, 2021

Union County will close most operations at its county jail, eliminate its corrections department and house inmates at the Essex County jail in a cost-saving move, officials said Thursday.

Under the agreement effective July 1, Union County will save more than $103 million over five years, according to county officials. The jail, located in Elizabeth, will remain open as a hub to intake, process and temporarily detain people before they are transferred to the Essex County Correctional Facility, roughly a 20-minute drive away in Newark.

In a statement, Union County officials said the decision was in response to a nearly 67% drop in inmates housed at its facility over the past decade. The county jail population has declined from more than 1,000 to 345, according to the county.

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Newark Planning Board Approves 12-story Residential Building in Downtown

A digital rendering of the proposed residential building to be constructed on Walnut Street.
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NEWARK, NJ – A 12-story residential development project aimed to bring more residents to Newark's Central Ward was approved by city planners this week. 

88-90 Walnut Street, LLC, is proposing to construct a multi-story residential building with 40 units, consisting of one- and two-bedroom units. The project will also encompass 20% affordable units. The ground floor of the building is proposed to include a fire command center, an electrical substation and three parking stalls.

"This is a plan that encapsulates the vision of revitalizing - creating vibrancy and sustainability in the Downtown living area," said Juliana Blackburn, the applicant's attorney. "This particular project epitomizes the vision of the city of Newark where people can live downtown without owning a car, without depending on car usage and perhaps take advantage of the downtown area in a major city."

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$400M in new state borrowing for upgrades to schools, libraries, environmental projects

JOHN REITMEYER, BUDGET/FINANCE WRITER | APRIL 23, 2021 

NJ Spotlight News

Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration is finalizing the sale of $400 million in state general-obligation bonds, debt that will finance school, library and environmental projects already approved by voters.

Under terms of the bond sale reviewed by administration officials on Thursday, the debt is being issued this month with a 20-year maturity and a true interest cost of just over 2%.

“We are encouraged by the strong demand investors continue to show for New Jersey paper as evidenced by the low true interest cost we received and the number of parties that bid, which is a sign of the faith investors have in the state’s credit,” said Treasurer Elizabeth Maher Muoio.

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Overwhelmed NJ unemployment system still needs more help, commissioner says

JOHN REITMEYER, BUDGET/FINANCE WRITER | APRIL 22, 2021

NJ Spotlight News

The head of the state agency that handles unemployment benefits told lawmakers that over the last year staffing has been tripled and technology upgraded, all in an effort to meet a historic crush of jobless claims that millions of New Jersey residents have filed during the coronavirus pandemic.

But the persistent backlogs and other challenges residents trying to file for benefits have often loudly complained about are also caused by an outdated federal unemployment system, said Robert Asaro-Angelo, the commissioner of the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, during a budget hearing Wednesday.

So even as the state has worked to improve its own unemployment benefits processing since the onset of the health crisis, it will take federal reform to really set things right, he told members of the Assembly Budget Committee.

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Post Guilty Verdict, Reform Champion Rice Cuts through ‘Apple Pie Talk’

By Max Pizarro | April 21, 2021

Insider NJ

On the same day a jury delivered a guilty verdict in the case of former Police Officer Derek Chauvin, veteran state Senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28) said the case should prod New Jersey to “get its act together.”

The senator from Newark has long criticized a legislative leadership agenda that gives the appearance of work getting done on reform bills that die in committee, or make it into law absent key social justice provisions, like marijuana legalization.

A lot of people post Chauvin decision have called on lawmakers to not lose sight of an opportunity to make real changes.

In an interview this morning with InsiderNJ, Rice explained why his home state must not languish and allow Derek Chauvin’s murder of George Floyd to merely serve as a feel-good press release moment.

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Rutgers COO: Students Who Don't Want Vaccine Should Consider Gap Year, Transferring

Antonio Calcado, the executive vice president for strategic planning and operations and COO, says students who don't want the COVID-19 vaccine should consider taking a gap year or transferring.
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NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ — A high-ranking Rutgers executive says students who decline to take the COVID-19 vaccine should consider taking a gap year or transferring to another school.

Antonio Calcado, the executive vice president for strategic planning and operations and chief operating officer, said there are five exemptions the state university is making for students returning in the fall.

Speaking last week during the regular COVID-19 health briefing hosted by Brian Strom, the chancellor of biomedical and health sciences and the executive vice president for health affairs, Calcado said students may request an exemption from vaccination for medical or religious reasons. Students enrolled in fully remote online degree programs and individuals participating in online-only continuing education programs will not be required to be vaccinated.

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Why the verdict in the George Floyd case matters in New Jersey | Opinion

Posted Apr 20, 2021

Long before the jury came back Tuesday afternoon it was clear to many in New Jersey, especially those in communities of color, that George Floyd was murdered and former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was guilty. What was also clear is that this trial was not just about Chauvin, and not just about the man he killed. Policing itself was on trial.

The verdict, said former Newark Police Department lieutenant Ronald Glover, “sounds an alarm that will wake up every New Jerseyan to the fact that traditional policing is dead.”

Most also said the verdict was not the end but a beginning. Now, New Jersey, and other communities, would have to rebuild trust among those in the community and those assigned to protect it. Others said that the even harder work of overhauling how public safety is handled in this country is just beginning.

“A flawed system laid the groundwork for the death of George Floyd. It’s a system that too often fails to recruit police from the communities they guard, fails to train officers properly, fails to place just limits on the use of force against citizens, and fails to create mechanisms for the independent investigation of misconduct,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “It’s a system that badly needs reform — here and across the country.

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