News

School Supplies Drive

12 August 2020

Dear Friends:

As we face a very challenging back-to-school season with officials struggling over how to implement an effective and safe teaching and learning strategy, I look to you to help provide a bit of positive support to our students by participating in our Virtual School Supplies Drive. It is easy, COVID safe, and personalized to the school district of your choice. All that is required is a small act of kindness on your part.

Assemblyman Roy Freiman and I have teamed up with an online donations platform called YouGiveGoods. Just go to the donations webpage https://yougivegoods.com/njlegd16-btschoose the school district you would like to support, and click on SHOP to purchase the goods you would like to donate. You will be emailed a tax receipt at the time of purchase. All goods ordered online will be shipped directly to each school district after the drive ends, and the district will distribute the items to the kids in need.

Roy and I have an ambitious goal of collecting 2,000 items by August 31st. Help us achieve that goal and put much needed smiles on the faces of many children during these unsettling times.

Take Care,

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker
16th Legislative District


BIPARTISAN-SPONSORED BILL TO REPLACE ‘FREEHOLDER’ TITLE WITH ‘COUNTY COMMISSIONER’ CLEARS LEGISLATURE, HEADS TO GOVERNOR

New Jersey remains the only state in the country to still use the colonial-era public office title of ‘freeholder’. Dating back to before the American Revolution, the title was used at a time when only white male owners of debt-free land could hold office. Today, it is a term often derided because of its inability to capture the actual duties of elected county officials.

To remove the outdated and confusing label, the full Assembly voted 61-12-4 on Thursday sending legislation (A-3594) to change ‘Freeholder’ to ‘County Commissioner’ to the Governor’s desk. The bipartisan bill is sponsored in-part by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson.

“It is beyond time we change the title of ‘Freeholder’,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “As a term dating back to before the Revolutionary War, whose meaning was historically intended to keep county-level office restricted to white, male, debt-free property owners it is not only outdated and archaic, but it is offensive to people of color and women.

“Our racist and sexist laws and conditions historically kept people from voting, owning land, and much. Removing from New Jersey’s political titles this exclusionary term, while only a small and symbolic part of the work that lies ahead of us to break down the walls of systemic racism and sexism, is a step in the right direction.”

Under the bill, the title of “chosen freeholder” and “boards of chosen freeholders” would be renamed to “county commissioner” and “boards of county commissioners” respectively.

Defined in the context of county government as “a member of the board which manages, controls, and governs the property, finances, and affairs of the county, and in which the executive and legislative powers of the county are vested,” the measure provides where “freeholder” is referenced in statute it is to be understood as “county commissioner.”

“Removing vestiges of racism and sexism found in names or titles that have no place in our society today is an important step among many needed to bring an end to systemic bias,” said Reynolds-Jackson (D-Hunterdon, Mercer).  “‘Freeholder’ was never an effective title for the county public office holder. For persons of color, it was more of a reminder of the sordid and oppressive ideals of its colonial-era origins. It’s time to end the confusing and hurtful conversation surrounding the term ‘freeholder’ and rename the position.”

Counties would also be required to update their websites to reflect the title change as well as retire letterheads, stationery, and other writings bearing ‘freeholder’ once their stock is exhausted. The update or replacement of signs or other writings would not be required within the bill’s timeframe if doing so requires the use of county funds. These changes would, however, need to occur during the ordinary course of business.

Assemblywoman Betty DeCroce (R-Essex, Morris, Passaic) is also a sponsor of this legislation. 

The bill cleared the Senate in a vote of 31-6.


ZWICKER, BENSON & SUMTER BILL TO CREATE STRONG SAFEGUARDS OF COVID-19 CONTACT TRACING DATA RECEIVES ASSEMBLY APPROVAL

To safeguard and restrict use of data collected for contact tracing, the full Assembly voted 55-18-1 advancing legislation (A-4170) sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Shavonda Sumter on Thursday.

“Contact tracing has long been an important part of controlling the spread of a contagious disease,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “To that end, people need to know what contact tracing is, how it works, and most importantly that the information requested won’t be shared or stored for reasons beyond the goal: saving lives.”

The bill stipulates that any public health entity or contracted third party collecting data for contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic can only use it for the purpose of contact tracing or for research. If not deleted within 90 days after receiving it, the data must be de-identified.

Data collected would include information such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, location, infection status and date of COVID-19 onset among other statistics authorized by the Commissioner of Health.

“Establishing that contact tracing data goes nowhere beyond where it needs to go is about transparency and trust,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “If we expect people to share their personal information, they need to know that the data will be protected and that their privacy is our number one priority too.”

Misuse or unlawful disclosure of individually identifiable or private health data by a third party, or retention of data beyond date of required de-identification or deletion, would result in liability for a civil penalty of up to $10,000 collected by the Department of Health.

This measure also requires the Commissioner of Health to adopt rules and regulations regarding how collected contact tracing data may be used.

“Building public trust to share sensitive data is essential,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “With better safeguards, not only by protecting data, but penalizing those who would seek to misuse it, we make efforts to contact trace more effective as people will feel more confident about participating.”

Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come into contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, notifying them of their risk and providing support services. It can be done manually with verbal interviews or by using digital data and smartphone technologies such as Bluetooth and GPS.

The bill now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

 


ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE CLEARS ZWICKER, BENSON & SUMTER BILL TO CREATE STRONG SAFEGUARDS OF COVID-19 CONTACT TRACING DATA

To safeguard and restrict use of data collected for contact tracing, the Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced legislation (A-4170) sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Shavonda Sumter on Monday.

“Contact tracing has long been an important part of controlling the spread of a contagious disease,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “To that end, people need to know what contact tracing is, how it works, and most importantly that the information requested won’t be shared or stored for reasons beyond the goal: saving lives.”

The bill stipulates that any public health entity or contracted third party collecting data for contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic can only use it for the purpose of contact tracing or for research. If not deleted within 90 days after receiving it, the data must be de-identified.

Data collected would include information such as age, gender, race and ethnicity, location, infection status and date of COVID-19 onset among other statistics authorized by Commissioner of Health.

“Establishing that contact tracing data goes nowhere beyond where it needs to go is about transparency and trust,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “If we expect people to share their personal information, they need to know that the data will be protected and that their privacy is our number one priority too.”

Misuse or unlawful disclosure of individually identifiable or private health data by a third party, or retention of data beyond date of required de-identification or deletion, would result in liability for a civil penalty of up to $10,000 collected by the Department of Health.

This measure also requires the Commissioner of Health to adopt rules and regulations regarding how collected contact tracing data may be used.

“Building public trust to share sensitive data is essential,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “With better safeguards, not only by protecting data, but penalizing those who would seek to misuse it, we make efforts to contact trace more effective as people will feel more confident about participating.”

Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come into contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, notifying them of their risk and providing support services. It can be done manually with verbal interviews or by using digital data and smartphone technologies such as Bluetooth and GPS.

The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.


BIPARTISAN-SPONSORED BILL TO REPLACE ‘FREEHOLDER’ TITLE WITH ‘COUNTY COMMISSIONER’ CLEARS COMMITTEE

Measure Sponsored in-part by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson

New Jersey remains the only state in the country to still use the colonial-era public office title of ‘freeholder’. Dating back to before the American Revolution, the title was used at a time when only white male owners of debt-free land could hold office. Today, it is a term often derided because of its inability to capture the actual duties of elected county officials.

To remove the outdated and confusing label, the Assembly Judiciary Committee advanced legislation (A-3594) Monday to change ‘Freeholder’ to ‘County Commissioner’. The bipartisan bill is sponsored in-part by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson.

“It is beyond time we change the title of ‘Freeholder’,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “As a term dating back to before the Revolutionary War, whose meaning was historically intended to keep county-level office restricted to white, male, debt-free property owners it is not only outdated and archaic, but it is offensive to people of color and women.

“Our racist and sexist laws and conditions historically kept people from voting, owning land, and much more. Removing from New Jersey’s political titles this exclusionary term, while only a small and symbolic part of the work that lies ahead of us to break down the walls of systemic racism and sexism, is a step in the right direction.”

Under the bill, the title of “chosen freeholder” and “boards of chosen freeholders” would be renamed to “county commissioner” and “boards of county commissioners” respectively.

Defined in the context of county government as “a member of the board which manages, controls, and governs the property, finances, and affairs of the county, and in which the executive and legislative powers of the county are vested,” the measure provides where “freeholder” is referenced in statute it is to be understood as “county commissioner.”

“Removing vestiges of racism and sexism found in names or titles that have no place in our society today is an important step among many needed to bring an end to systemic bias,” said Reynolds-Jackson (D-Hunterdon, Mercer).  “‘Freeholder’ was never an effective title for the county public office holder. For persons of color, it was more of a reminder of the sordid and oppressive ideals of its colonial-era origins. It’s time to end the confusing and hurtful conversation surrounding the term ‘freeholder’ and rename the position.”

Counties would also be required to update their letterheads, stationery, and other writings as well as websites to reflect the title change within a year of the bill becoming effective. The update or replacement of signs or other writings would not be required within the bill’s timeframe if doing so requires the use of county funds. These changes would, however, need to occur during the ordinary course of business.

Assemblywoman Betty DeCroce (R-Essex, Morris, Passaic) is also a sponsor of this legislation.

The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.

Eagleton Science Fellows

13 July 2020

Dear Friends:

Never has the need been greater than it is today to have more scientists working on public policy.  Programs that place scientists into one-year positions in Washington, D.C. have been around for decades, but few states do the same thing.  A few years ago, a friend and a scientist also working in politics mentioned to me that California had a program and that NJ should consider something similar.  I made a phone call to the wonderful people at the Rutgers University Eagleton Institute of Politics and they jumped at the opportunity to allow young Ph.D.-level scientists to train and work throughout NJ State Government. 

The program brings enormous benefits to not only the Science Fellows by building civic skills, deepening their understanding of government, and learning how to navigate political systems, but also the state government by providing the following:

  • Making available immediate, unbiased, and highly trained scientific expertise available in-house at no cost to the host offices
  • Providing an increased ability to respond to issues effectively and efficiently
  • Strengthening and informing NJ policymaking process
  • Asserting New Jersey as a global leader in using evidence-based policies to ensure the well being of its people and economy, and environment.

This past Wednesday, July 8, 2020, marked the conclusion of the inaugural year of the Rutgers University Eagleton Institute’s Science and Politics Fellowship.  Four scientists completed their work, which was celebrated by a virtual graduation ceremony.

At the graduation ceremony, these four passionate and dedicated people spoke with eloquence and enthusiasm about their work on climate change at the Department of Transportation, newborn screening at the Department of Health, data privacy at the General Assembly Majority Office, and maternal health at the Department of Human Services.

Their accounts filled me with joy and optimism that better governing through science is expanding in NJ and elsewhere.

During my keynote address, I talked about the importance of not just their work, but the evidence-based approach that they took to all of their assignments. 

Since the day I became a legislator, it has been a personal goal to find ways to enhance evidence-based decision making in public policy.  The circumstances of 2020 have revealed that there has never been more important and urgent time in the history of this country for investing in science and politics.  The health and well being of every New Jersey resident is at stake.  I am profoundly grateful for Eagleton’s commitment to the cause.

Take Care,

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker
16th Legislative District

 


JOHNSON, CONAWAY & ZWICKER BILL TO ESTABLISH NJ FUEL CELL TASK FORCE SIGNED INTO LAW

Aiming to boost adoption of clean energy alternatives and grow the market for fuel cells in New Jersey, legislation (A-741) to establish a 15-member task force within the Board of Public Utilities (BPU) on the use of fuel cell technologies was signed into law by the Governor on Friday.

Fuel cells facilitate the combining of hydrogen and oxygen to make water, and convert the chemical energy into electricity. The cells can be used in all-purpose generators as well as integrated with stationary machinery, specialty vehicles like forklifts, portable floodlights, and motor vehicles giving them broad applications.

Sponsors of the bill now law, Assembly Democrats Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) and Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon) released the following joint statement:

“As the applications of fuel cell technology continue to grow, we are looking at an ever-increasing capacity to shift away from fossil fuels and toward better, cleaner power sources. By creating a central task force comprised of cross-sector experts, this measure takes the first step in accelerating New Jersey’s implementation of fuel cell technologies.

“Engaging State departments, local government, industry and the public on the topic of fuel cells, the task force would be largely beneficial in helping develop policy recommendations and a course of regulatory action. If we plan to make New Jersey’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050 a reality, keeping at pace with innovations and integrating clean energy technologies will be critical.”


Contact Tracing with Privacy Protections is a Formula for Saving Lives and Boosting Economy

We need effective contact tracing with privacy protections to open NJ’s economy and save lives.

In NJ, more than 12,000 people in the last three months have died from COVID-19 - more than we lost during all of WWII.  During this same time period as Governor Murphy issued his stay-at-home order that shut down all but essential businesses, more than one million people in NJ claimed unemployment and the budget deficit over the next year is now predicted to be close to $10 billion dollars.

During this past week, my committee, the Assembly Science Innovation and Technology Committee, together with the Assembly Community Development and Affairs Committee chaired by Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter held a hearing on one of the key tools needed to reopen NJ’s economy safely:  contact tracing. 

Contact tracing has been a weapon in the battle to prevent the spread of communicable diseases for decades. According to the World Health Organization, the eradication of smallpox, for example, was achieved in 1979 not by universal immunization, but by exhaustive contact tracing. Diseases for which contact tracing is commonly performed include tuberculosis, vaccine-preventable infections like measles, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), blood-borne infections, some serious bacterial infections, and novel infections (e.g. SARS-CoVH1N1, and COVID-19). 

Technology plays a crucial role in contact tracing, and as our world has been more technologically advanced, our personal data have become more vulnerable.  While NJ has no plans to develop a contact tracing app that we would download on our phones to track our movements, it does intend to use a central database to store contact tracing data in “the cloud.” This information, collected through telephone calls to those suspected of being in close contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, will include your name, ask about how you are feeling, ask about others with whom you may have had close contact, and ask that you quarantine yourself.  You will NEVER be asked for money, your social security number, bank information, immigration status, or other personally protected information.

Contact tracing will only work if people willingly participate in the process. And one of the key ways to get that participation is through guarantees of individual privacy, which is why I introduced A4170 that has bipartisan support in the General Assembly.  The bill is not about the value of contact tracing or whether it should occur. Rather, the bill focuses on how it should be implemented with an appropriate protection of privacy. This bill provides that public health entities (such as the NJ Department of Health, county and local boards of health) collecting information on an individual for the purposes of contact tracing related to the COVID-19 pandemic, may only use the data for the purposes of completing contact tracing. Furthermore, these public health entities must delete the personal information once contact tracing is complete. 

The more we protect a person’s privacy, the more willing they will be to participate honestly in contact tracing. People have to feel comfortable in responding to contact tracers.

This measure also requires that the Commissioner of Health publish website guidelines regarding how collected data may be used and how its security and confidentiality must be ensured. A mechanism where the public can submit comments over a 30-day period must be provided before any NJ Health Department guidance can be finalized.    

As NJ continues to reopen and we spend more time with friends, family, and others, we must do everything we can to minimize the spread of this horrible virus that has killed so many.  Ensuring that contact tracing is done with the involvement of local community members in a sensitive and caring way yet with strong privacy protections in place is essential. 


ZWICKER, BENSON & MUKHERJI MEASURE TO INCREASE AWARENESS FOR VOTE-BY-MAIL AND BOOST EFFICIENCY CLEARS ASSEMBLY PANEL

 (TRENTON) – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact New Jersey, the July primary election will be conducted predominantly by mail with each registered Democrat and Republican automatically receiving a ballot and all other registered voters receiving an application for a mail-in ballot. If the pandemic continues through the fall, more voters may choose to vote by mail than in past elections.

To increase public awareness of vote-by-mail and implement safeguards to improve the system’s efficiency, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Raj Mukherji was approved by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

“It’s critical that we balance the interest of voting by mail with a system that is both fair and efficient,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “Under this legislation, the particular goal is to ensure every person registered and able to vote has the information they need. It works to ensure the voice of our electorate continues to be heard, whether people choose to vote by mail or to head to the polls. As the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, getting VBM right and getting mailed-in ballots properly counted is vital.”

The measure (A-3591) would require the New Jersey Secretary of State to raise public awareness for vote by mail by preparing informational posters for use at all polling places; include information with mail-in ballots for how the voter can check the status of their ballot; and provide educational materials to county board of elections employees on the standards for acceptance and rejection of mail-in ballots.

Under current law, county boards of elections are required to retain voted mail-in ballots for two years. This bill would clarify that ballots received 48 hours after the polls close, along with their envelopes, should also be retained for two years. It would also prohibit the rejection of mail-in ballots that have missing or insufficient glue on the outer or inner envelopes.

“Voting is among our most important rights and responsibilities in this country, and it should be easily accessible to all,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for us to raise awareness for vote-by-mail and make improvements to ensure every vote is fairly counted.”

“Voter apathy and low turnout are grave threats to our democracy, and even more so during a pandemic. Expansion of vote-by-mail and ensuring its fairness and efficiency can help combat those threats,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “By allowing our citizens who may not be able to make it to the ballot box in person, from people with disabilities to workers without paid time off to the elderly or immunocompromised, we must allow their voices to be heard. It is imperative that we increase awareness and ensure fair counting in preparation for a surge in mailed ballots.”

Additionally under the bill, every mail-in ballot that does not have a postmark date but is received by a county board by the United States Postal Service within 48 hours after the polls close should be considered valid and must be canvassed.

The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.


ZWICKER & SUMTER ON JOINT COMMITTEE HEARING CONCERNING COVID-19 CONTACT TRACING

The Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology and Assembly Community Development and Affairs committees joined together on Tuesday to hear testimony on the importance of contact tracing to contain the spread of COVID-19 and gain more insight into what is needed to safeguard the privacy of data collected.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset), chair of the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology committee released the following statement:

“Contact tracing has long been one of our most reliable and effective tools to combat the spread of communicable disease. In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, it serves as a core component of our public health response.

“Providing health officials information about the networks of people who have come into contact with a positive individual who can then be alerted of their risk for infection, it serves a critical function in breaking chains of transmission, curbing resurgence and saving lives.

“The challenge in front us in New Jersey is building on public trust so that more people are willing to stay on the phone when a contact tracer calls them and share information.

“As heard today, to build this trust we must address the divergent needs of our communities and clearly communicate around what contact tracing is, how New Jersey is approaching it and what exactly is being done to protect the data collected.

“The implication of contact tracing for our privacy is a critical piece. Without the assurance that data is being collected, used and stored solely for the purpose of contact tracing and only for the length of time it’s needed, we limit the ability of our contact tracing program to work.”

Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic), chair of the Assembly Community Development and Affairs, issued the following statement:

“Abundant in information, this was a conversation that needed to take place as we enter and encourage contact tracing throughout the state.

“Community and data privacy concerns can be obstacles to using this effective tool in flattening the curve of Covid-19. The benefits of contract tracers working in partnership with us to limit the exposure is critical during this season of the pandemic. 

“We know today that communities of color and our senior population has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak. In order to protect public health going forward in these communities and throughout the state, we must all be activated to engage in reporting cases, answering calls from contact tracers and, subsequently, accessing the care we need in a timely manner.

Hopefully, this will be the first of many dialogues on contact tracing as we begin to reopen New Jersey.”