News

Statement on Racial Injustice

“As a Legislator, I have to push past my comfort zones and challenge the societal injustices that we have accepted as the norm.”

Last week and this past weekend, like many of you I watched the news coverage of blatant and abhorrent acts of racism across the country.  This racial violence, which ranged from false accusations against Christian Cooper to the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police, is not isolated.  It was preceded by the deaths of Breonna Taylor and the many others whose names we’ve memorialized and the ones that never make it to the national news.  

Societal racism is rooted so deep that there are fellow American citizens who have to worry every day whether the color of their skin will determine whether they live or die.  Racism rooted so deep that access to high-quality education, access to jobs, and access to clean air and water is unjustly dependent upon the color of your skin.  Where a virus that doesn’t discriminate on who it infects disproportionately kills black and brown people because of unequal access to healthcare and unequal distribution of wealth and employment.  This racism is so pervasive that every day there is the physical and mental weight of being perpetually disrespected, dehumanized, and marginalized. 

I have waited to respond to these most recent events, because I wanted to center on the voices of individuals who need to be heard and who have been screaming out for change for generations.  I stand with those who are protesting as they continue to be forced to prove their humanity. 

It is also important for me to acknowledge that these events are far bigger than my feelings.  I have to do more than the performative acts of “standing in solidarity” or writing statements, because that won’t effectuate real change.  As a Legislator, I have to push past my comfort zones and challenge the societal injustices that we have accepted as the norm. 

While I may not be able to write legislation that changes how people think, I will work with my colleagues to create new public policies that fundamentally dismantle a system that perpetuates racism and education and economic inequalities. 

Because the alternative is unacceptable.


REYNOLDS-JACKSON, QUIJANO & ZWICKER BILL REQUIRING COVERAGE FOR CERTAIN PRESCRIPTION REFILLS DURING EMERGENCY NOW LAW

In an effort to ensure New Jersey residents are able to maintain a supply of the medicines they need during the COVID-19 pandemic, Assembly members Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, Annette Quijano and Andrew Zwicker sponsor a bill mandating health insurance coverage of certain prescription refills during an emergency. The legislation was signed into law by the Governor on Friday.

The law (formerly bill A-3970/S-2344) requires Medicaid and other health insurance carriers offering a health benefits plan in New Jersey that provides coverage for pharmacy services or prescription drugs, to cover refills that give individuals at least a 30-day supply of prescription medicines or a 90-day supply of maintenance medications, in the event a public health emergency or state of emergency is declared.

Insurance carriers will have to cover a refill that fulfills the minimum 30-day requirement even if the person has not yet reached their scheduled refill date. In addition, no fees can be applied for the delivery of these medicines.

Upon the bill becoming law, the three sponsors issued the following statements:

“Whenever our state is facing an emergency situation that will go on for some time, it’s important to make sure residents have access to the medicines they need throughout the crisis,” said Assemblywoman Reynolds-Jackson (D-Hunterdon, Mercer). “Especially in the event of an infectious pandemic, limiting the number of times an individual has to go out in public to obtain the essential supplies they need can help slow the spread of the virus.”

“By mandating coverage of prescription refills even before the usual refill date, we can help residents stock up on critical medications at fewer intervals,” said Assemblywoman Quijano (D-Union) “This will allow them to stay home for longer periods of time without having to face adverse health effects from either a lack of medicine or increased exposure to the virus.”

“As legislators, we have the responsibility to help make sure New Jersey residents are taken care of during public health emergencies such as the one we are currently facing,” said Assemblyman Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset).“This law is one way we can help keep more residents safe during these uncertain times.”


ZWICKER: BALANCING THE PRIORITIES OF PUBLIC HEALTH, PRIVACY

By Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker

In the face of the global coronavirus pandemic, our health and safety remain the No. 1 priority. When it is safe to do so we will need to reopen our state, restart our economy and get people back to work.

As Gov. Phil Murphy has made clear, the way to do this is by taking a data-driven approach that relies on social distancing to “flatten the curve,” using rapid, accurate, and widespread testing to identify those positive for the virus. The ability to then identify others that have been near this person for a period of time, known as “contact tracing” is essential.

In the absence of a vaccine, contact tracing and self-isolation are how we most effectively stop new infections, meaningfully reduce hospitalizations and fatalities, and eventually reopen our economy to restore jobs and get back to business as usual with the greatest amount of safety.

Efforts are already underway to significantly ramp up our ability to perform traditional, in-person contact interviews of those positive for the virus. This approach works by having teams of people, working with local health officials, available to contact family, friends and co-workers possibly at risk because a person testing positive identified being in contact with them.

Leveraging technology to support contact tracing done manually by people will be critical to boosting the accuracy and real-time collection of information on potential new infections.

Using GPS data or the Bluetooth functionality on our smartphones, technology-driven contact tracing would then fill any remaining information gaps by identifying those at risk for infection simply because they were in the same place at the same time as someone who tested positive. Effectively, this would enable strangers who shared the same line at the grocery store or were in close proximity on the same train to be notified of a potential risk, tested and subsequently isolated if found positive so the cycle of community spread can be broken.

Major tech companies and universities in the United States are already working together on this approach, developing the technological foundation that will be integrated into apps under development now. Such tools would assign unique but anonymous IDs to peoples’ phones enabling automatic detection of close proximity interactions, taking place for a certain length of time, with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19. This information would then be used to alert people of possible exposure and shared with local health officials to inform our public health response.

Successful implementation of such technology, however, relies on the extent to which a majority of the roughly 80% of Americans owning a smartphone are willing to opt-in. And, as leading experts in the privacy community have pointed out, the success of voluntary participation heavily depends on strong privacy safeguards with guarantees that any use of data will only be for contact tracing purposes and that stored data would be deleted once the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Data privacy has long been an issue before the coronavirus. Combining people and tech-driven contact tracing approaches undoubtedly gives us the greatest chance to ease restrictions safely, but to see their success our data privacy does not need to be the tradeoff. With public trust and confidence guiding people’s decision to opt-in to the technology, government and private industry have the incentive to balance the priorities of data privacy and the public’s health and safety equally. In no way does one objective have to compromise the other.

Recognizing this, companies are already promising to set the highest standards for privacy when it comes to the responsible use of our data for contact tracing. Ensuring they are held accountable to these standards of data protection promised at the outset will largely depend on crafting thoughtful, deliberative and responsible public policy.

This is the challenge in front of us and we must act now. New Jerseyans have always been strong and resourceful. This time is no different.

This opinion piece was published in-print by the Star Ledger on April 29, 2020 and online by NJ.com on May 2, 2020: https://www.nj.com/opinion/2020/05/balancing-the-priorities-of-public-health-privacy.html


ZWICKER, EGAN AND CARTER BILL TO STRENGTHEN FAMILY LEAVE PROTECTIONS IN NJ SIGNED INTO LAW

(TRENTON) – With the goal to provide job protection to employees who need to take time off from work to care for an ill family member amid the COVID-19 pandemic, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon), Joseph Egan (D-Middlesex, Somerset) and Linda Carter (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union) was signed into law Tuesday by Governor Phil Murphy. It was approved Monday by the full Assembly, 80-0 and the Senate, 38-0.
The new law (formerly bill A-3913) expands New Jersey’s Family Leave Act to include leave for employees who need to care for a sick family member due to an epidemic of a communicable disease, known or suspected exposure to the disease, or to prevent the spread of the disease. During the COVID-19 outbreak, workers will be allowed to take up to 12 weeks of family leave during a 24-month period without losing their jobs.
The law’s sponsors released the following joint statement:
“Countless New Jersey residents have needed to take time off from work to care for family members due to the health crisis created by the spread of COVID-19, and many more will need to do so in the future. There’s never been a more important time to strengthen our family leave program.  
“In a time of growing uncertainty, every worker deserves to know they won’t lose their job if they use family leave. This law also expands family leave for parents of school aged children who need to take time off due to school closures during this crisis. 
“New Jersey has one of the most robust family leave laws in the nation. Today we make our program stronger to address the challenging times we are in.”

MUKHERJI, SPEARMAN & ZWICKER BILL TO INCREASE CASH SUPPORT PAYMENTS FOR RECIPIENTS OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE RECEIVES FINAL LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL

To ensure the most economically vulnerable residents in the state are supported during a state of emergency, the Senate advanced legislation on Thursday and it now heads to the Governor’s desk.

The bill (A-3858) would require the Commissioner of Human Services to issue supplemental cash assistance payments, under certain circumstances, to those within the Work First New Jersey program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the special supplemental food program for women, infants and children.

The bill sponsors, Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), William Spearman (D-Camden, Gloucester) and Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon), issued the following statement:

“Food shortages caused by COVID-19 could have a devastating impact on families who rely on public assistance programs to put food on the table. Too many living paycheck to paycheck are grappling with what do if they are unable to afford extra stocks of food and basic supplies at home. Making sure these families, in times of special vulnerability like a pandemic, have the extra financial support they need is both critical and just.”

The bill was approved by the full Assembly 53-0-12 on Monday March 16, 2020.


MUKHERJI, SPEARMAN & ZWICKER BILL TO INCREASE CASH SUPPORT PAYMENTS FOR RECIPIENTS OF PUBLIC ASSISTANCE CLEARS ASSEMBLY

To ensure the most economically vulnerable residents in the state are supported during a state of emergency, the Assembly approved legislation 52-1-12 on Monday.

The bill (A-3858) would require the Commissioner of Human Services to issue supplemental cash assistance payments, under certain circumstances, to those within the Work First New Jersey program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the special supplemental food program for women, infants and children.

The bill sponsors, Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), William Spearman (D-Camden, Gloucester) and Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon), issued the following statement:

“Food shortages caused by COVID-19 could have a devastating impact on families who rely on public assistance programs to put food on the table. Too many living paycheck to paycheck are grappling with what do if they are unable to afford extra stocks of food and basic supplies at home. Making sure these families, in times of special vulnerability like a pandemic, have the extra financial support they need is both critical and just.”


ZWICKER ON LEGISLATION ALLOWING CHIROPRACTORS TO OBTAIN TEMPORARY LICENSE TO PRACTICE IN NJ ON A SHORT-TERM BASIS

Bill Now Heads to Assembly Speaker for Further Review

Sports teams that employ a chiropractor on staff often prefer to bring them along when traveling out of state. Under current law, chiropractors traveling to New Jersey with their teams or visiting the state to teach educational programs and seminars are not allowed to practice here.

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker sponsors legislation that would permit licensed chiropractors from other states to obtain a temporary license allowing them to practice within New Jersey for up to 14 days. The chiropractor’s malpractice insurance would carry over while traveling in another state with an athletic team, as per legislation recently passed at the federal level.

Upon the bill (A-1194) passing the Assembly Regulated Professions Committee Thursday, he released the following statement:

“Chiropractors who work closely with professional sports teams understand what the athletes need to help prevent injuries and improve their performance. That’s why more than 90 percent of world-class athletes use a chiropractor.

“Team members trust their chiropractors and should be able to travel with them when visiting our state for a game. Similarly, chiropractors who come here to share their expertise at local seminars through hands-on demonstrations should also receive temporary authorization.

“With this legislation, New Jersey would join more than 30 other states in allowing chiropractors licensed elsewhere to temporarily practice within our borders.”


BIPARTISAN BILL TO BOOST TRAINING FOR ADVANCED MANUFACTURING WORKFORCE PASSES COMMITTEE

Legislation Sponsored in Part by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker

In an effort to help more people acquire the skills they need to obtain jobs in the advanced manufacturing industry, legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker would provide assistance to these businesses by helping more students receive the training needed to enter the field. Advanced manufacturing uses innovative technology to improve the manufacturing process and the resultant products.

The bill (A-1431) was advanced by the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee on Thursday. Assemblyman Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon) released the following statement:

“Advanced manufacturing techniques such as automation and information technologies improve productivity and efficiency by minimizing time and waste, as well as suppling consumers with the high-quality goods they demand. As the manufacturing industry transitions to more advanced techniques, workers need to acquire the skills that allow them to participate in this exciting new field.

“This legislation helps this workforce transition by creating a list of industry recognized credentials to be used in developing educational programs in our county vocational schools and higher education institution. The Commissioner of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of Higher Education and members of the manufacturing industry will be developing the credentials criteria.

“A skilled workforce in the advanced manufacturing field will prove to be an invaluable asset to New Jersey’s thriving science, technology and innovation economy.”

The measure is also sponsored by Assemblywoman BettyLou DeCroce (R-Essex, Morris, Passaic).


SINGLETON, ZWICKER STATEMENT ON THE FUTURE OF ‘DARK MONEY’ IN POLITICS

Senator Troy Singleton and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker issued the following statement on the future of “dark money” in politics:

“The Attorney General’s action brings closure to the lawsuits that had kept us in limbo for too long. We have already begun working with the legislative leadership on the next steps and we believe there is a clear path forward. With the presidential and congressional elections later this year, we expect tens of millions of “dark money” dollars to be spent in an attempt to influence the outcomes. We will continue to fight to ensure that those organizations that accept anonymous large donations are forced to disclose their sources. We must shine a light on who is working secretly to change the course of our elections. The people of New Jersey deserve nothing less than the fairness and transparency our legislation will provide.”


Asm. Zwicker hosts BPU Forum on How to Lower Your Energy Costs

Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D- 16th District-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon) is welcoming Daylight Savings Time by hosting a New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) forum on energy savings, Wednesday, March 11, 2020, noon, Hunterdon County Library in Flemington. The information presented will benefit the individual consumer by describing ways to lower one’s energy costs, while simultaneously benefitting society with reduced energy consumption that ultimately conserves the earth’s natural resources.

BPU ombudsperson Ken Sheehan will provide several different strategies for consumers to improve energy efficiency and reducing their energy bills – including implementing energy efficient structural upgrades, using energy efficient lighting, participating in rebate programs for everyone and special ones for senior citizens, and exploring alternative energy initiatives. Mr. Sheehan will explain the advantages and mechanics of going solar, as well as the community solar project, Referring to a larger, centrally located solar array or facility that is divided among multiple participants or subscribers, the community solar project is particularly suited for renters or homeowners whose homes cannot accommodate solar panels.

“I am so pleased that the BPU can lead a conversation on this critically important topic. Each of us, while saving money on our energy bills, can play a role in reducing energy consumption and our impact on the climate,” said Assemblyman Zwicker.

Hunterdon County Library, 314 State Route 12, Bldg. #3, Flemington, NJ 08822. Main phone: (908) 788-1444.

For information, please call the office of Asm. Andrew Zwicker 732-823-1684 or email phersh@njleg.org