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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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Downey, Houghtaling & Zwicker Bill to Improve Medicaid Eligibility System Clears Assembly Panel

Aiming to make the application process for Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare simpler and more accessible, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joann Downey, Eric Houghtaling and Andrew Zwicker to improve the eligibility determination system for these programs was approved Monday by the Assembly Human Services Committee.

"Medicaid is a critical lifeline for so many low-income, elderly, or disabled New Jersey residents, who would otherwise have no access to health insurance," said Downey (D-Monmouth). "The process to become Medicaid beneficiary, however, can be incredibly confusing and tedious. Enhancing the eligibility determination system will streamline the process and make it easier for people to get the coverage and care they need."

Under the current Medicaid eligibility system, applicants face a patchwork of county, state, and federal agencies which use different processes for enrollment, resulting in varying timing and accuracy rates. Beneficiaries who have trouble navigating the system may lose coverage.

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Zwicker Announces Spring 2019 LD-16 Mobile Office Hours Schedule

The Offices of Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker and Assemblyman Roy Freiman will be holding a series of spring office hours from February through May.  These mobile office hours will provide residents of the 16th Legislative District with opportunities to receive support in matters related to state agencies, voice their opinions on state issues, and familiarize themselves with services available to them through their state legislative offices.

These spring mobile office hours will be held in both Hillsborough and Hunterdon libraries.  For the Hunterdon office hours location, staff from Congressman Tom Malinowski's office will also be present to address federal issues or concerns.*

Constituents may visit the locations listed below from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on each of the following dates:

Hillsborough Public Library
379 South Branch Road, Hillsborough Township, NJ 08844

Tuesday, February 26
Tuesday, March 19
Tuesday, April 23
Tuesday, May 14


*Hunterdon County Library
314 NJ-12, Flemington, NJ 08822

Tuesday, February 26
Tuesday, March 26
Tuesday, April 30
Tuesday, May 28

No appointment is necessary. For more information please call (732)-823-1684. 

 


Benson, Zwicker & Lampitt Measure Creating Task Force to Study Autonomous Vehicles Clears Full Assembly

(TRENTON) - To ensure self-driving cars are safely integrated on New Jersey roads, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Andrew Zwicker and Pamela Lampitt to establish a task force to evaluate autonomous vehicles was approved on Thursday by the full Assembly.

"As major auto companies explore developing semi and fully autonomous cars, we need to prepare for the day when we'll see only self-driving vehicles on our roadways," said Benson (Mercer, Middlesex). "The goal of this task force will be to assess how we can introduce autonomous vehicles to our roadways while keeping drivers safe."

The measure (AJR-164) would create the New Jersey Advanced Autonomous Vehicle Task Force, comprised of eight members. The group would be responsible for conducting a study of autonomous vehicles and recommending laws, rules, and regulations that the state may enact to safely integrate these vehicles on the roads.

An advanced autonomous vehicle would be defined as a motor vehicle with a driving automation level of three, four, or five, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers International, and is used by the United States Department of Transportation for autonomous vehicle policy guidance. Level three vehicles are classified as having conditional automation, during which an autonomous system operates under certain conditions with human drivers as a back-up; level four vehicles have high automation, such as Google's test cars; and level five cars are fully automated and do not have a steering wheel.

"It may not be long before self-driving cars are commonplace in New Jersey, marking a significant change in how people get around each day," said Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). "We need to make sure our transportation regulations are up to date to meet this influx of innovation."

"As drivers begin using autonomous cars equipped with new, never-before-seen technology, it's essential to study how to best introduce and regulate these vehicles," said Lampitt. (D-Camden, Burlington). "The work of this task force will help us gain a better understanding of how self-driving cars will impact our roads, and how we can improve existing laws to ensure the safety of all drivers."

The task force shall be comprised of the following members: the Commissioner of Transportation (DOT); the Chief Administrator of the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC); the Director of the Division of Highway Traffic Safety in the Department of Law and Public Safety; three public members appointed by the Governor including a member who was recommended by the Division of Banking and Insurance; one public member appointed by the Senate President; and one public member appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly.
The group would be required to meet within 90 days after the bill's effective date, and within 180 days of the first meeting. It would be required to issue a report to the Governor and the Legislature evaluating safety standards and recommending best practices. The New Jersey MVC and the DOT would be required to assist the task force with necessary duties.

Additionally, the task force would conduct an evaluation of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's safety standards for advanced autonomous vehicles and whether the state may enact stricter safety standards; an evaluation of existing state and federal law concerning advanced autonomous vehicles with a focus on safety standards; an evaluation of existing legislation and regulations in other states concerning advanced autonomous vehicles with a focus on safety standards; recommendations on how New Jersey could safely integrate advanced autonomous vehicles on the highways, streets, and roads; any other information relevant to the subject of the report; and any draft legislation the task force deems appropriate.

If enacted, New Jersey would join Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Oregon in using a task force to study the implementation of autonomous vehicles.

The measure now heads to the Governor's desk.


Jasey & Zwicker Bill to Modernize State Documents to be Inclusive of Gender Diversity Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) - To respect gender and sexual identities of all New Jersey residents, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey and Andrew Zwicker to remove blanks and forms requesting gender and sexual orientation information when such data is not relevant was approved Thursday by the Assembly Human Services Committee.

"It's important that we foster a respectful, inclusive environment for our LGBTQ community in New Jersey," said Jasey (D-Essex, Morris). "In most cases, questions about sexual identity and gender on registration forms are simply unnecessary. This legislation would remove those questions, except where medically necessary, to help us embrace gender diversity in our state."

The bill (A-4870) would require that information about a person's sex, gender or sexual orientation would only be collected when such information is vitally necessary for the health and wellbeing of the inviduals seeking the services. This requirement would be applied to all blanks, forms, documents, and applications furnished to the public for official business by every state department, commission, committee, council or agency.

The collection of information about an individual's sex, gender, or sexual orientation for the purposes of statistical research or study would be deemed optional, and be clearly marked as such on each document in order to inform each individual filer that services will not be withheld if the filer chooses not to provide such information. Any questions relating to sex, gender, or sexual orientation would be posed in a sensitive manner, and would not infringe upon or threaten the individual's mental and physical wellbeing; would allow for non-binary designations; and would be consistent with relevant best practices, as recognized by Garden State Equality and other relevant organizations that engage in advocacy on behalf of the state's LGBTQ communities.

The authority to grant or refuse the disclosure of such information would remain with the individual, or with the individual's parent or guardian for a minor under the age of 18. No third party actor, including, but not limited to, a health care provider or a state employee or partner, would have the agency to grant or refuse the disclosure of this information.

"It's no longer appropriate to ask a person about their gender or sexual orientation on a form, particularly if it's not relevant to the matter at hand," said Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). "Every person has a right to basic respect. This bill will allow us to extend more respect to LGBTQ residents of our state."

Additionally, if the state is required by a federal agency or other federal initiative to collect and report information related to an individual's sex, gender, or sexual orientation, the state department would set rules for the documentation verifying the applicable federal requirements before it would be authorized to include any questions on corresponding forms, blanks, documents, or applications.

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