McKeon, Prieto, Wimberly, Zwicker & Greenwald Bill to Create Statewide Gun Buyback Program Clears Assembly, Heads to Gov

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman John F. McKeon, Speaker Vincent Prieto, Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker and Assemblyman Lou Greenwald that would create a statewide gun buyback program in an effort to reduce the number of firearms in New Jersey communities was given final legislative approval in the Assembly on Monday. The bill will now go to the Governor's desk. 

"Gun violence claims lives every day. In some communities, it is an-all too common reality," said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). "We realize a gun buyback program alone will not eliminate gun violence, but it can help enhance public safety by reducing the number of firearms in circulation."

The bill (A-2374) would require the New Jersey Attorney General to establish a statewide gun buyback program, which would allow New Jersey citizens to voluntarily and anonymously surrender firearms and weapons in their possession in exchange for a monetary reward.

"A gun in the hands of a violent or disturbed individual is a bad combination," said Prieto (D-Bergen, Hudson). "This can help keep guns from falling into the wrong hands by creating a controlled environment where individuals looking to get rid of their weapons can do so safely and anonymously."

Under the bill, state Office of the Attorney General would be required to hold at least nine gun buyback programs a year throughout the state; three each in the northern, central and southern regions. At least one program in each region would be required to be held in an urban area with a high crime rate, as determined by the uniform crime report.

"Every extra gun we get off the streets is another potential life saved," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "We've had a great deal of success in getting unwanted, and often illegal guns, off our city streets through previous gun buybacks, so absent nationwide gun reforms, we need to do everything we can in New Jersey to make our streets safer."

"The more we can do to get guns off our street, the better," said Zwicker (D-Mercer/Middlesex/Somerset). "This is about public safety. If people want to voluntary give up guns, then we should make it easier for them to do so. Each gun turned in can mean a life saved."

"Some people will find any reason to attack proposals meant to protect the public from gun violence," said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). "This bill would simply give gun owners who want to get rid of their weapons another avenue to do so. Surely this is something even they can get behind." 

Funding for the program would primarily be generated by captured proceeds from criminal activities in the state and private donations from corporations, small businesses, and individuals.

The Office of the Attorney General held a similar gun buyback initiative in 2012. Through 10 buybacks across the state a total of 15,958 firearms were collected, including more than 7,300 handguns and nearly 1,900 illegal guns.

The full Assembly approved the bill, 51-6-0.

Eustace, Benson, Zwicker, Wimberly Bill to Authorize Virtual Net Metering For Certain Customers Clears Legislature, Goes to Gov's Desk

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Tim Eustace, Daniel Benson, Andrew Zwicker, and Benjie Wimberly to allow "virtual" net metering for customers connected to hydropower facilities was approved by the full Assembly on Monday. 

Virtual net metering (VNM) is a bill crediting system. A customer receives credits on their electric bill for excess energy drawn from a hydropower facility.

"For residents who have invested in a renewable energy source for their homes, this legislation would reduce their utility bill by giving them credit for the excess energy produced," said Eustace (D- Bergen, Passaic). "Virtual net metering allows the customers to keep tabs on how much energy they actually use through alternative energy sources. Because of their investment, residents should see the savings on their utility bills from month to month."

Under the bill (A-2204), a small scale Hydro power facility put into service after the effective date with the capacity of 3 MW or less is eligible for net metering. The bill authorizes a facility to deliver or sell power to up to 10 end-use customers, who are located within 10 miles of the facility and net-metered within the service territory of a single electric public utility, and designate the end-use customers to be credited by the electric power supplier or basic generation service provider with the excess generations of the facility. 

"Many residents are looking to renewable energy sources as alternative ways to heat and cool their homes," said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). "Residents should be able to reap the rewards of turning to solar or other resources and see the difference in their utility bill."

The bill also requires an electric public utility, electric power supplier, for a basic generation service provider to provide standby power at the request of the facility or an end - use customer who uses Power generated by the facility. 

"Standby power," under the bill, means power made available during a facility outage to a facility or to win - use customer who uses power generated by the facility. 

"Virtual net metering is a way for more residents to take advantage of renewable energy sources," said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset). "Families who subscribe to a hydro power facility should receive credit on their electric bill for the excess energy their home has produced."

"Families are always trying to find ways to save money, especially on utilities," said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). "If they use or produce renewable energy in their homes, then residents should be able to receive credit for the excess produced."

The bill was release by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee in June. The bill will now go to the Senate for further consideration. 

The Assembly approved a concurrence vote, 68-1-1. The Senate approved the bill in December. 

Assembly Approves Wisniewski, Coughlin, Danielsen, Benson & Zwicker Wind Energy Development Bill

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John S. Wisniewski, Craig Coughlin, Joseph Danielsen, Daniel Benson and Andrew Zwicker to provide incentives for companies exploring wind energy development cleared the full Assembly, 54-15-1, on Monday. 

"Rising electricity costs and environmental concerns urge us to seek new ways to create, conserve and protect our energy resources," said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). "Wind farms and the production of clean, renewable energy will be keys to creating the sustainable future New Jersey greatly deserves."

"Encouraging the development and expansion of wind energy initiatives is good business for the state," said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). "Attracting wind energy facilities, in the long run, will create jobs, increase our sustainability, and position our state as one of the few pioneers developing this new energy frontier."

The bill (A-1899) would amend the Offshore Wind Economic Development Act to expand the definition of "wind energy zone" to include property located in the project area of the "Portfields Initiative," designated as a portfield site by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA) and within a county of the second class with at least 700,000 residents (Middlesex County). This amendment would also allow the Economic Development Authority to provide tax credits for qualified wind energy facilities located in this area.

"With this legislation, we can encourage business and job growth in New Jersey," said Danielsen (D-Middlesex, Somerset). "We can also shift the state's dependence on current energy resources by exploring the potential of natural resources through wind farming. This is New Jersey's chance to take the lead in wind farming nationally and set an example other states can follow."

"If we are going to meet our state's renewable potential, we must expand wind farming as an essential green energy resource in New Jersey," said Benson (D-Middlesex, Hunterdon). "We can only realize this potential by enabling businesses to discover the benefits of wind farming in New Jersey. Growing wind energy in the state will mean more jobs and greener, cleaner energy too." 

"To effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need to develop strategic policy supports for renewable energy resources, including wind power," said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). "This bill's business incentives and classification of wind energy zones are two important steps for New Jersey towards a comprehensive and competitive renewable energy plan."

The measure cleared the Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee. 

Zwicker Introduces Bill to Require Health Insurance Coverage for Prescription Contraceptives in New Jersey

(TRENTON) - Assembly Democrat Andrew Zwicker introduced on Wednesday legislation that would revise New Jersey law requiring health insurance coverage for prescription contraceptive. 

Citing President Trump's reversal of an Affordable Care Act mandate requiring employers to include birth control coverage in their health insurance plans, Zwicker said this legislation is an important step toward preserving women's access in New Jersey to affordable prescription contraceptives. 

In October, President Trump issued two new rules: (1) employers who hold "sincerely held religious beliefs" against birth control will no longer be required to provide coverage, and (2) organizations and small businesses that have objections to contraceptives "on the basis of a moral conviction which is not based in any particular religious belief," are also exempt.

"Removing the requirement for employers to provide medical coverage for contraceptives will give some employers an excuse to deny women of their basic healthcare rights," said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). "That is unacceptable and we will take action in New Jersey to maintain coverage for women and ensure continued, affordable access to contraceptives."
Over 55 million women now have coverage of birth control and other preventive services without out-of-pocket costs, according to the National Women's Law Center. In addition, several studies have shown that since the ACA benefit went into effect, women are accessing birth control coverage without paying out-of-pocket costs. 

A federal judge in Philadelphia recently granted Pennsylvania's bid for in injunction against the Trump administrations new rules. 

"We should not be limiting access to affordable healthcare, we should be expanding it. With this bill, we can at least protect some of the progress we've made for women's healthcare under the Affordable Care Act," continued Zwicker.

The bill will amend the statute requiring health insurance carriers and the state health benefits programs to cover prescription female contraceptives, by prohibiting insurers from imposing a deductible, coinsurance, copayment, or any other cost-sharing requirement on this coverage. It specifies that, in the case of a high deductible health plan, the limitation on cost-sharing will not be applied until the expenditures applicable to the deductible under federal law have been met. 

Under the bill, once, the foregoing expenditure amount has been met under the plan, coverage for prescription female contraceptives benefits is to be provided without cost-sharing. The bill also would remove the exemption in current law for religious employers to provide coverage for female contraceptives if the required coverage conflicts with the religious employers to bona fide religious beliefs and practices.

Assembly Dems Bill Creating Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Heads to Governor

Vainieri Huttle, Lampitt, McKnight, Holley, Mukherji, Zwicker & Wimberly Bill Receives Final Legislative Approval


Legislation Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Pamela Lampitt, Angela McKnight, Jamel Holley, Raj Mukherji, Andrew Zwicker and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to create the office of an ombudsman to serve as an advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities received final legislative approval from the full Senate on Monday.

"Navigating state and federal laws and bureaucracy can be overwhelming for anyone," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. "For those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it can be downright frustrating, which can deter some individuals and families from accessing much-needed services that may be available to help them. This is counterproductive and in no one's best interest. By creating an ombudsman to help guide them through the state and federal labyrinth of services, we can help individuals become more self-sufficient, thriving members of the community."

The bill (A-3824), which was approved by the Assembly in June, would establish the independent Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families in, but not of, the Department of the Treasury. The ombudsman is to be appointed by the governor.

"The loved ones of individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities want them to be able to take advantage of all the programs and services available, but doing the research alone is like a full-time job," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Having a single office people can contact with questions and concerns will be invaluable." 

"All New Jersey residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve the opportunity to live happy, healthy lives," said McKnight (D-Hudson). "It's so important that these individuals and those who care for them know how to access the resources that can make that possible." 

"The services New Jersey makes available to those with disabilities can only be useful if people know they exist and understand how to access them," said Holley (D-Union). "The ombudsman will be dedicated to knowing the issues that affect individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities thoroughly and making it easier for people to access health care, pursue an education, seek employment and live independently."

"Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities require a strong support system in order to thrive and reach their full potential," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Establishing this office will fortify that system and open doors for more New Jersey residents."

"Parents and guardians who are raising children with disabilities face challenges that can often make them feel alone and helpless," said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/ Hunterdon/Middlesex). "Knowing the ombudsman is there to help will provide peace of mind as they navigate what may seem to be a complex and daunting system."

"Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a right to the opportunity to thrive and be happy," said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This legislation will help parents, caregivers, educators and everyone involved in the lives of people with disabilities access tools to ensure that they have the best possible quality of life." 

The ombudsman would organize and direct the work of the office with duties that would include, but not be limited to, the following: 

1) serving as a source of information for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families and interested members of the public, to help them better understand state and federal laws and regulations governing individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities; 

2) providing, in coordination with the State Council on Developmental Disabilities: information and support to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families in navigating and understanding the process for obtaining services and support from the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Division of Children's System of Care (CSOC), including information and support for those who transition from receiving services and supports; and assistance in obtaining appropriate, services, support, and opportunities from CSOC or DDD that focus on personal goals and making those goals become a reality; 

3) providing information, communication strategies and available options when it comes to resolving disagreements with CSOC, DDD, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or the Department of Human Services (DHS) regarding the evaluation, placement, or provision of services and supports; and to educate individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families; 

4) working neutrally and objectively to help ensure that a fair process is followed in the resolution of disputes concerning the provision of supports and services to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities receiving services from CSOC or DDD; 

5) identifying patterns of complaints regarding the rights and services of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and recommending strategies for improvements; and 

6) assisting CSOC and DDD in creating public information programs designed to acquaint and educate individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, their families, and the public about the duties of the ombudsman.

The bill also would require the ombudsman to issue a written report annually to the Commissioner of Human Services and the Commissioner of Children and Families, which would include a summary of the services the ombudsman provided during the year and any specific recommendations the ombudsman deems appropriate and necessary to provide services and support to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The report also would be issued to the governor and the legislature.

The measure now heads to the governor's desk.

Burzichelli, Zwicker Bills Protecting Students with Disabilities, Helping Car Services Who Drive Disabled Persons Clears Legislative Panel

(TRENTON) - An Assembly panel approved on Monday legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Burzichelli and Andrew Zwicker strengthening protections for students with disabilities and relieving the burden of costs of motor vehicle registrations for drivers of disabled persons.

The first bill (A-501), sponsored by Burzichelli and Zwicker, establishes certain requirements for use of physical restraint on students with disabilities in school districts and approved private schools for students with disabilities. The bill also applies to educational services commissions. 

"The civil rights and the humane treatment of students must be upheld in these circumstances," said Burzichelli (D-Salem, Cumberland, Gloucester). "Guidelines are necessary to have in place under the law to ensure the safety and proper care for our students with disabilities in our schools."

"Improper and excessive restraint of any student is inexcusable," said Zwicker (D- Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). "Students with disabilities require special care and attention for their specific developmental needs. Protocols are necessary to ensure that educators and administrators are following the proper safeguards when it comes to dealing with students with disabilities."

According to the Department of Education's Civil Rights Data Collection, during the 2013-14 school year, students with disabilities were subjected to mechanical and physical restraint and seclusion at rates that far exceeded those of other students. The existence of this disparity raises a question as to whether school districts are imposing restraint or seclusion in discriminatory ways. 

The bill would help to ensure that:

  • Physical restraint is used only in an emergency in which a student is exhibiting behavior that places the student or others in immediate physical danger;
  • A student not restrained in the prone position unless a physician authorizes, in writing, the use of this restraint technique;
  • Staff members who are involved in the restraint of a student receive training in safe techniques for physical restraint by an entity approved by the board of education. This training must be updated at least annually; and
  • The parent or guardian of a student is immediately notified by telephone or through some means of electronic communication when physical restraint has been used on the student. A full written report of the incident must be provided to the parent or guardian within 48 hours of the occurrence of the incident.

Another bill (A-5220), sponsored by Burzichelli, exempts motor vehicle that provide service to persons with developmental disabilities from motor vehicle registration fees. 

"Many organizations which provide support to persons with developmental disabilities often struggle financially due to mounting costs of providing this invaluable service to residents," said Burzichelli. "Paying motor vehicle registration fees may be nominal to an individual but to an organization, these fees can add up if you have a fleet of vehicles. This legislation provides relief for organizations who need it and, due to the work they do, deserve the consideration."

A-5220 was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee and A-501 was released by the Assembly Health Committee. Both will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.

Hugs for Brady Foundation Honored by General Assembly

TRENTON, NJ - The Hugs for Brady Foundation was honored last week with a ceremonial resolution sponsored by local resident and Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen (D), Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R) and Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D). 

"Hugs for Brady helps out children with cancer, and children with cancer get a small fraction of research and development funds," Danielsen said. More advancements in research and development have been made in the last ten years than any other time in history, and this progress cannot continue without donations. Our hope rests in donations made to organizations like Hugs for Brady."  

Co-Founder and mother of the foundation's namesake, Sherrie Wells was presented with the ceremonial resolution alongside her family and the foundation's board members.

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Hugs for Brady Foundation Honored by General Assembly for Work to Combat Childhood Cancer



(TRENTON) – The General Assembly honored The Hugs for Brady Foundation with a ceremonial resolution during last Thursday’s voting session for its work in combating childhood cancer and helping families defray the cost of cancer treatments.

Sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset/ Mercer/ Middlesex/ Hunterdon), Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset) and Senator Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-Somerset/ Mercer/ Middlesex/ Hunterdon), the ceremonial resolution was presented to Sherrie Wells, co-founder and mother of the foundation’s namesake, Brady Wells, her family and the foundation’s board members.

“Hearing the words, ‘Your child has cancer,’ is one of the worst things that can happen to a parent. Thousands of children in New Jersey are diagnosed with cancer each year, and their families need support. The Wells family turned their tragedy into a way to help many children and families who are battling this devastating disease. This ceremonial resolution honors their selflessness and dedication to finding treatments for childhood cancers, and supporting children and their families,” said Zwicker.

Founded in 2009 by Sherrie and Michael Wells to help children diagnosed with cancer after their son Brady was diagnosed with non-differentiated acute leukemia, the Hugs for Brady Foundation has made tremendous contributions to children’s cancer research and provided both emotional and financial support for families.

“Brady passed away in my arms at just 23 months old from this hideous disease. The first year of his life he was happy, smart, beautiful and healthy,” said Sherrie Wells. “Cancer just suddenly appears and even after a very tough battle, it takes children’s lives. We need to do more to save our children, we need to fund research, and we need to find a cure.”

Childhood cancer affects more than 2,000 children in New Jersey alone, and the number nationwide exceeds 250,000 children. Foundations like Hugs for Brady play a significant role in curing childhood cancers, not just in New Jersey, but across the country.

Hugs for Brady is headquartered in South Brunswick Twp. For more information about the Hugs for Brady Foundation, click HERE.

Zwicker Introduces Legislation to Help Displaced Professionals from Puerto Rico Find Work on Mainland

Bill Would Revise Law on Out-of-State Licenses to Include Professionals from Storm-Ravaged Island 

(TRENTON) - Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker on Monday introduced legislation aimed at helping doctors, nurses, teachers and other licensed professionals from Puerto Rico find work after relocating to New Jersey following Hurricane Maria.

"New Jersey has one of the highest populations of Puerto Ricans on the mainland, and we can expect to see that population grow as our fellow Americans from the island seek safety with family and friends in the United States," said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon/Mercer/Middlesex/Somerset). "As they settle into their new lives in New Jersey, we can help ease the transition by ensuring that men and women from Puerto Rico are able to continue in their professions and support their families here."

The bill (A-5255) would revise state law regarding the reciprocity process for out-of-state professional and occupational licensing. Currently, licensed professionals from jurisdictions with standards that are substantially equivalent to New Jersey's may work in their respective industries in New Jersey provided they supply the state with proof that an out-of-state license is valid, current and in good standing. 

Zwicker's legislation would clarify that the law applies not only to residents of the 50 states but also to individuals with licenses from Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia or any other territory or possession of the United States. 

Under the bill, verification of licensure must be submitted to the appropriate state licensing board within six months or, in the cases of individuals relocating due to a natural disaster or other catastrophic event, as soon as practicable.

"After losing so much due to Hurricane Maria, people who are qualified to perform a job - and who may have been thriving doing that job in Puerto Rico - shouldn't have to go through the additional stress of repeating coursework and training here in New Jersey," said Zwicker. "Any American citizen who comes from Puerto Rico and can prove that he or she already did what's required to earn a license to work in New Jersey should be eligible to work in his or her field and make positive contributions to our state's economy." 

The measure was referred to the Assembly Regulated Professions Committee.

Assembly Democratic Bill to Require NJ to Join and Uphold Paris Climate Agreement Clears Assembly Panel

Bill Sponsors Include Raj Mukherji, Andrew Zwicker, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Joann Downey, James Kennedy and Nancy Pinkin


(TRENTON) - An Assembly panel approved legislation on Monday sponsored by Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji, Andrew Zwicker, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Tim Eustace, Joann Downey, James Kennedy and Nancy Pinkin to require the state to take part in the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the Paris Climate Accord and the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

The bill (A-5040) would require New Jersey to join the United States Climate Alliance, a group formed to pursue policies to uphold the United States' commitments to the Paris Climate Accord in order to address the threats posed by climate change. The group was formed by the Governors of California, New York, and Washington after President Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. 

"Science is a thing, and global warming is real," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Abandoning the Paris Climate Accord is a mistake that will be paid for by generation after generation if we do not take action, assuming the world doesn't end under the Trump administration. Aligning ourselves with the U.S. Climate Alliance is the first step."

"This legislation sends the message that we do not agree, along with other states, with pulling out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement," said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). "We should be a part of the international effort to stop global warming. It is only together that we can make a real environmental change."

"The global effort to effect climate change and global warming began here in the United States and we should remain a leader among nations in these efforts," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "As one of four countries that contribute the most global greenhouse gas emissions, we must work with other countries and strengthen the accord with our participation." 

"Pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord would be detrimental to our effect as a nation," said Eustace (D-Passaic, Bergen). "Climate change and global warming is very real and it is not going away unless we join with other nations in the fight to end it." 

"The United States will pay a heavy price for withdrawing from the Paris agreement," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "We must do our part, alongside other nations, in curbing the effects of climate change and global warming on our environment."

"While other nations have taken a step forward, the United States has taken a step back," said McKeon (D-Essex). "It's nonsensical. For this reason, New Jersey should join other states in entering the US Climate Alliance."

"The US, China, India, and the European Union contribute about half of global greenhouse gas emissions," said Kennedy (D- Middlesex, Somerset and Union). "It is imperative that we join the rest of the world in combating the effects of climate change. Future generations depend on our nation to take a proactive stance against these environmental concerns."

"To effectively address global warming, we must stand with our international partners," said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). "This is a global challenge. We must do our part."

The bill was release by the Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee and will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.