The requirement to disclose significant contributions and spending by politically active nonprofits — known as “dark money” — is moving ahead in the Legislature, despite the elimination of what seemed to be one of the bill’s goals — to embarrass Gov. Phil Murphy after a group that supports Murphy went back on its word to reveal its donors.

Nonprofit organizations known as 501(c)(4)s engage in electioneering and lobbying, but are not currently covered by state contribution-reporting requirements. Legislation that would require them to reveal contributions of at least $10,000 and expenditures of $3,000 or more had languished in Trenton for years until it got a push from Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), provided that it be made retroactive to the beginning of last year. That would have required the Murphy-centric group to reveal its donors from 2018.

That retroactive disclosure was not included in the Assembly version of the bill, A-1524 approved Monday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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Zwicker on New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund

(NORTH BRUNSWICK) – Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon) issued the following statement Wednesday on today’s press conference on the New Jersey Innovation Evergreen Fund:

“The Evergreen Fund is an innovative approach to reclaiming New Jersey’s high-tech economy. New Jersey has historically been a hub of innovation, from the manufacturing of textiles and silk in Paterson, to Trenton’s steel cables, to the transistor, radar, and fiber optics, to Edison’s invention of the telephone, to one of our State’s true unsung heroes, Beatrice Hicks, who invented a gas density switch used by NASA on the Apollo mission to the Moon.

“Times, however, have changed, and many of the transformative laboratories where history was made are no longer standing. Other states have already begun to adjust to these changes and we must not fall too far behind.

“By auctioning tax credits to large companies and using those proceeds to provide matching funds that directly invest in emerging companies in our State, we will create a thriving innovation economy that is a win-win for everyone involved.

“Our goal is to once again make New Jersey a true national leader of innovation by developing new public-private partnerships that create technological and economic advancements that improve our lives.

“I’m incredibly excited to help New Jersey reemerge as the premier destination for entrepreneurs and innovators in the world.”

Pinkin and Zwicker Bill to Statutorily Protect Resident Interest in New Jersey Shores, Strengthen Efforts to Guard Marine Life & Endangered Species Advanced by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Codifying the public’s right to enjoy New Jersey’s coastline as designated under the Public Trust Doctrine, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Nancy Pinkin and Andrew Zwicker was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee Monday.

“Generation after generation of New Jersey families as well as visitors from out-of-state spends their summers vacationing at the shore,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “Although resident access to our beaches is expressed through the Public Trust Doctrine, formally adopting this principle into law will ensure continued respect of residents’ rights to access New Jersey’s shoreline for recreational purposes and also allow us to further our environmental efforts to protect marine life and endangered species.”

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Zwicker, Benson & Sumter Bill Establishing Disclosure Requirements for Independent Advocacy Groups Clears Assembly Committee

(TRENTON) - Under current law, 527 groups, 501(c)4 social welfare, and 501(c)6 organizations are allowed to keep their donors secret. In an effort to provide greater transparency and accountability, a bill (A-1524), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Shavonda Sumter was approved Monday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

"Information is power and we need to arm voters with the most information possible," said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). "More disclosure will inform residents about groups working to influence political and legislative processes. Greater transparency will lead to an increase in voter confidence and that's a good thing for New Jersey and for democracy."

Under the legislation, so-called "dark money" groups would be required to make public their donors and expenditures. An analysis by the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission found the top 25 special-interest groups in the Garden State spent $74 million in an attempt to influence elections and policies in 2017, with $41 million coming from "dark money" groups.

"This bill will bring these groups out of the shadows and into the light," explained Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). "Voters deserve to know everything possible about 'dark money' organizations working to influence the political process in New Jersey. This legislation empowers the people."

The bill would revamp "The New Jersey Campaign Contributions and Expenditures Reporting Act" to enact new reporting requirements for contributions over $10,000 and all expenditures over $3,000 by "dark money" organizations.

"Groups that are trying to influence the outcome of any election or legislation should not be permitted to operate under a veil of secrecy," stated Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). "Disclosing donors and expenditures is not a novel idea. It's something we do as candidates. We're just requiring the same of advocacy organizations." 

The bill does not apply retroactively. It is prospective only.

The measure now heads to the Speaker for further consideration.

Assembly Democratic-Sponsored Bill to Remove Bureaucratic Hurdles & Make Medical Marijuana More Accessible to Patients in NJ Clears Assembly Approps

(TRENTON) - Legislation to fix the flaws in the Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act and make medical marijuana more accessible to patients who could benefit from it cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee Monday. It now heads to the Assembly floor for a vote on March 25.

The measure, now known as the Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act, is sponsored by Assembly Democrats, Joann Downey, Joseph Danielsen, Eliana Pintor Marin, Andrew Zwicker, Eric Houghtaling and Carol Murphy.

Assemblywoman Downey is the original sponsor of the bill named after Jake Honig, a seven-year old Howell resident nicknamed "Jake the Tank" who was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive from of brain cancer with a rare genetic mutation at the age of two. After undergoing dozens of rounds of chemotherapy, proton radiation therapy, and surgery, his tumor went into remission for four years, until follow-up scans determined that the tumor had returned and spread to other parts of his body. 

Jake's doctors advised his parents that there was nothing more to be done, and he was released to hospice care in his own home. Jake was prescribed six different medications to treat his side effects which included nausea, vomiting, agitation and acid reflux. Medical marijuana proved to be the most effective way of making Jake more comfortable. It helped to improve his mood, appetite and restore his mental well-being. 

"Although medical marijuana proved to be an effective treatment for Jake, his parents noted the difficulties they encountered with the cost, quantity limits, and issues related to producing their own cannabis oil to administer to their son," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "In honor of Jake, who passed away last year, this bill seeks to remove certain restrictions on access to medical marijuana in order to reduce the suffering experienced by, and improve the quality of life of, New Jersey patients, like Jake, seeking treatment for a life-threatening medical condition." 

The bill (A-10-3740-3437), would expand access to medical marijuana for patients with any diagnosed medical condition, require issuance of additional dispensary permits, revise certain requirements concerning patients and primary caregivers as well as requirements for physicians to authorize qualifying patients and improve the application, ownership, and operational requirements for alternative treatment centers.

"This legislation is about helping residents gain access to new treatments that may help them to live better lives," said Pintor Marin (D-Essex). "The medical marijuana program was left to languish under the previous administration and now deserves proper support from the state to improve access to medical treatments for residents who truly need it." 

"However well intentioned, the current program has failed to meet the needs of many of the residents it sought to help," said Danielsen (D-Middlesex, Somerset). "Too many bureaucratic hurdles have rendered the program ineffective and incapable of meeting the demand for this treatment. This bill would make several revisions to the current law so patients who can benefit from medical marijuana can get it more efficiently and without having to jump through multiple hoops."

"For many suffering from critical illnesses, increased access to medical marijuana will mean the difference between being able to participate in life or having to deal daily with, sometimes, debilitating symptoms," said Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). "This legislation will provide the opportunity for better doctor-patient care with access to a wider range of treatments to fit the illness."

"Too many restrictions have weakened this program and patients have suffered for it. Either we believe medical marijuana to be an effective treatment for some medical conditions or we don't," said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). "If the goal is to really help people who are dealing with medical conditions, such as Jake, with symptoms that can be treated with a medical form of cannabis, then we have to make it more accessible- to help these individuals live their best lives for themselves and their families."

"We want to put patients and doctors back in charge of a patient's medical care plan," said Murphy (D-Burlington). "The current system works against common sense. We need reasonable changes that make patient care the priority."

The bill changes the regulatory structure for the State's medical cannabis program, placing administration under the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) from the Department of Health (DOH). The CRC will have oversight over both the medical and adult-use programs, and will have broad authority to establish the detailed requirements for each program, issue permits, establish new permits, and determine the locations for new permits.

Kennedy, Holley & Zwicker Bill to Aid 9/11 First Responders Clears Assembly Panel

Aiming to assist first responders who voluntarily participated in 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts, legislation sponsored by Assemblymen James Kennedy, Jamel Holley and Andrew Zwicker expanding eligibility for accidental disability allowance to include members or retirees of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS) and the State Police Retirement System (SPRS) who voluntarily responded to the attack was approved Monday by the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.

"When police and firefighters in New Jersey, received word that two planes had struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, many of them didn't hesitate before responding to the scene, even though they were not specifically ordered to go," said Kennedy (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union). "Unfortunately, some suffered permanent or total disability. Due to the fact that they responded as volunteers, they are not entitled to the same compensation as their counterparts who were considered to be 'on the job that day. It's time to change that."

The bill (A-4882) would provide that a member or retirant of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS) and the State Police Retirement System (SPRS) is eligible to receive an accidental disability retirement allowance for a permanent and total disability resulting from participation in 9/11 World Trade Center rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations, whether or not they are instructed by an employer to participate. If a member participated in World Trade Center rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations for a minimum of eight hours, a disability resulting from a qualifying condition or impairment of health would be presumed to have occurred during and as a result of a member's regular or assigned duties and not the result of the member's willful negligence, unless the contrary can be proved by competent evidence. The presumption is available whether or not the member was assigned to participate. 

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