News

ZWICKER, BENSON & CONAWAY “BALLOT CURE ACT” TO PROTECT VOTING RIGHTS ADVANCED IN COMMITTEE

Measure to Require Notice of Ballot Rejection, Provide Voters with Remedies

Bolstering efforts to keep democracy safe during coronavirus and beyond, the Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Thursday advanced the ‘Ballot Cure Act’ sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Dan Benson and Herb Conaway.

The bill (A-4276) would enable voter to access a confidential, free-system to see whether their provisional, mail-in or overseas ballot was accepted for counting. It also provides that mail-in ballots would not be rejected for a physical defect in the inner envelope, outer envelope, certificate, or ballot outside the control of the voter.

“One of the foundations of our democracy is the right to vote,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “This year, most of us will choose to vote-by-mail because of safety concerns due to COVID-19. It is critical that each person knows that when their ballot is cast their vote is recorded. The purpose of this bill is to make voting more accessible and minimize the likelihood of disenfranchisement. We must make sure that every vote counts.”

Ballot curing provisions included in the bill stipulate that county board of elections must record the acceptance or rejection of a voter’s ballot, and notify them within 24 hours of decision to reject the ballot. The voter would have up to 14 days after the close of the polls on Election Day to provide a cure for their ballot.

“Every eligible voter has the right to participate in our electoral process,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Doing our due diligence, as this bill does, to ensure voters mailing their ballot can track their vote and can rectify an issue that would invalidate their ballot is absolutely necessary for fair representation.”

This measure would also provide remedies specific for signature deficiencies, allowing voters to return a ‘cure form’ to the county board of elections to verify their ballot. The Secretary of State would additionally need to publish signature matching guidelines to ensure ballots are not needlessly invalidated during the authentication process due to slight and non-fraudulent causes of signature variance.

“In New Jersey we need to establish a modern voting system for the upcoming November election and beyond that will largely utilize vote-by-mail,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “This starts with better support and procedures for vote-by-mail, so that all voters and particularly the disabled, elderly and language-minority voters are able to safely and confidently vote from home.”

The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.


ZWICKER, BENSON & FREIMAN BILL TO PROTECT VOTER RIGHTS, EDUCATE PUBLIC AND ELECTION STAFF ON VOTE-BY-MAIL CLEARS COMMITTEE

Protecting people’s right to vote in the midst of a pandemic threatening public health and safety, the Assembly State and Local Government Committee advanced a measure on Thursday sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Roy Freiman concerning vote-by-mail (VBM).

The bill (A-4320) would require the Secretary of State to create public awareness materials that includes informational posters to be displayed at polling places on VBM, information for voters on how to check the status of a mailed ballot and educational materials for county board of elections employees on standards for accepting or rejecting a mailed-in ballot.

“Safe and fair voting is a pillar of our democracy,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “Doing everything to ensure voters are fully prepared with the know-how to vote by mail and to ensure this method of voting is fair and transparent is critical to prevent voter suppression and protect the vote.”

During New Jersey’s municipal and school board elections in May, election officials did not count 9.6 percent of ballots sent in. This measure would prohibit a mail-in ballot being rejected due to missing or insufficient glue when such physical defects are outside of the voter’s control. Ballots deemed invalid must also be retained for two years.

“Recent months have revealed concerning flaws in our vote-by-mail system, many the result of simple, avoidable error,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “As we look to the general election in November, this legislation ensures voters are not only armed with the information to vote-by-mail, but also that mail-in ballots aren’t unduly being rejected and left uncounted.”

The deadline for receipt of mail-in ballots bearing a postmark on or before Election Day would be extended from two days after the closing of polls to six days.

“With more than six million registered voters in New Jersey and a lot at stake in the upcoming general election, it’s imperative to continually improve the VBM process,” said Freiman (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “Helping to educate people as well as the county election staff counting mail-in ballots would build more trust and confidence among voters, and combat misinformation to safeguard people’s right to vote.”

The bill now heads to the Speaker for further consideration.


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.