Zwicker “Voting Precinct Transparency Act” Clears Committee

In an effort to maintain a fair election process in New Jersey, legislation promoting voting transparency sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker was advanced by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Thursday. 

The "Voting Precinct Transparency Act," (A-4564) requires the filing of election district, county district and municipal ward boundary data with the Secretary of State for posting and downloading online.

The bill also requires the Secretary to post a table or database containing the election results per election district in a format that matches the election districts boundary data. 

"Some states do a great job of providing precinct-level election results, others do a great job of providing precinct geographies," said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex/Hunterdon). "However, most states don't compile either, and the few who do, don't do so in a way that is well-standardized. Currently, New Jersey is one of these states that doesn't compile and release them all. This bill would change that and indeed, would make New Jersey a leader in transparency about election data."

Currently, all municipalities in New Jersey are divided into election districts for the purposes of election administration and voting. Essex, Atlantic and Hudson counties are divided into county districts from which voters elect some or all of the members of the county governing body. Sixty-four municipalities in New Jersey have established municipal wards from which voters elect some or all of the members of their respective municipal governing bodies. 

Under the bill, The Secretary of State must make this data available on the official website of the Division of Elections for the public to download free of charge. 

It is important to have high-quality data indicating the boundaries of precincts. According to the sponsor, other benefits would include: 

· establishing a precedent of releasing high quality, usable data for use by all New Jerseyans;

· possibly making election administration and ballot assignment easier; and

· making it easier for municipalities and counties to comply with federal mandates such as the Voting Rights Act.

Mazzeo, Armato, Zwicker & Murphy Hurricane Sandy Relief Legislation Advanced by Assembly Panel

Providing relief for New Jersey residents who were affected by Superstorm Hurricane Sandy, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vincent Mazzeo, John Armato, Andrew Zwicker and Carol Murphy was approved by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee on Monday.

"Though a significant amount of time has passed, we fully recognize that far too many of our families and local businesses are still struggling to regain what was lost during the devastating superstorm," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "There is certainly more work to be done, but these bills are a great step forward in helping our residents rebuild."

"It is important that the legislature is focused on the work that we, as a state, still have left to do in order to get to a place of full recovery from Hurricane Sandy," said Armato (D-Atlantic). "That is why we have introduced a number of bills to continue to fight for our residents and business owners who are still struggling to rebuild their homes and communities."

The bills sponsored by Mazzeo and Armato include:

A-4529 (Mazzeo, Armato): Concerns reimbursements to Superstorm Sandy-impacted homeowners who were subject to contractor fraud.

A-4530 (Armato, Mazzeo): Concerns information, such as mold damage, on property condition disclosure statements provided by real estate broker, broker-salesperson, salesperson, government employee or a person licensed by the state to inspect homes.

A-4531 (Armato, Mazzeo): Requires New Jersey Division of Travel and Tourism prepare report on state travel and tourism industry recovery since Superstorm Sandy.

Additionally, another measure (A-4536) sponsored by Zwicker and Murphy would require the Department of Community Affairs to track, as necessary, natural disaster-related spending from various outlets in New Jersey in an effort to add a layer of transparency to the disaster recovery process.

"After Hurricane Sandy, far too many parts of our state were forced to rebuild their homes, businesses and communities from the ground up," said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Middlesex/Hunterdon). "The data collected as a result of this bill will allow us to be more prepared for future storms like Sandy as well as become more aware of the funds needed to restore areas of our state if necessary."

"Unfortunately, there is often little to no way of knowing the amount of damage that will come from a superstorm or natural disaster," said Murphy (D-Burlington). "This can result in surprisingly high costs for our taxpayers. Having a natural disaster spending summary to look back at, should another devastating storm hit New Jersey, will be extremely helpful in helping keep our hard-working families safe while saving money."

Assembly Democratic Bill Greatly Expanding Access to Medical Marijuana by Adding Eligible Conditions and Protections for Practitioners and Patients Advanced by Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – To expand access to medical cannabis for all eligible patients in New Jersey, Assembly Democrats have sponsored legislation amending the requirements for the regulation of the state's medical cannabis program. The bill was advanced through the Assembly Appropriations Committee Monday.

The bill (A-10) would revise the regulatory structure for New Jersey's medical cannabis program, shifting the primary administration from the Department of Health (DOH) to the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), which is to be formed under the adult-use cannabis bill currently advancing through the Legislature, as well as increase access to and expand licensure for medical cannabis.

"It is about time we remove the unnecessary obstacles in the way of patients getting the treatment that works best for them," said Joe Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset). "By reversing the onerous restrictions previously in place in our state's medical cannabis program, we are doing a service to patients and doctors all across New Jersey."

"The previous model of New Jersey's medical cannabis program forced patients to jump through countless unnecessary hoops in order to receive the treatment they need," said Herb Conaway (D-Burlington). "Finally, this will no longer be the case."

“We are finally removing the burdensome restrictions in place for our state’s medical cannabis patients,” said Eliana Pintor Marin (D-Essex). “By doing this, we are ensuring that patients in New Jersey are able to receive the best care possible.”

Highlights of the bill include:

•   changing the term "debilitating medical condition," currently used to be eligible for medical cannabis to "qualifying medical condition," greatly expanding access for individuals in need of medical cannabis;
•   codifying conditions added by the Medical Marijuana Review Panel in January 2018, which would include chronic pain of musculoskeletal or nervous origin, anxiety, migraine, Tourette's Syndrome and menstrual pain;
•   amending requirements for authorizing medical cannabis for patients. This legislation repeals the current requirements for physicians to "certify" patients for the medical use of cannabis and allows physician assistants and advanced practice nurses to authorize patients to use medical cannabis;
•   the establishment of three new basic permit types: Cultivator, Manufacturer and Dispensary, as well as a special integrated curriculum permit and clinical registrant permit, with twenty-five percent of permits dedicated to minorities, women and disabled veterans;
•   amending the requirement for a psychiatrist to approve a minor for medical cannabis to instead require approval from a board certified pediatric specialist, or physician assistant or advanced nurse practitioner with equivalent certification;
•   increasing eligible forms of medical cannabis to include transdermal forms, sublingual forms and tincture forms, as well as removing restrictions under current law for edibles for minors; additionally, the bill also explicitly includes "oils" in the list of edible forms;
•   the phasing out of the sales tax structure for medical cannabis, beginning at 5% for FY20 and FY21, 3% in FY22, 1% in FY23, and no tax commencing in FY24;
•   overhauling regulations on caregivers in order to allow them to provide the best care possible to medical cannabis patients; and
•   adding protections for patients, caregivers, physicians and alternative care centers to treat medical cannabis as any ordinary prescription medication.

"For years, our residents have wanted medical cannabis to be a real option for their ailments," said Andrew Zwicker (D-Hunterdon/Mercer/Middlesex/Somerset). "Finally, patients will be able to be granted the care they need and deserve."

"What we are doing is making medical cannabis an actual, viable option for patients in need of medical care," said Joann Downey (D-Monmouth). "By treating cannabis as the medicine that the vast majority of health care professionals consider it to be, we are doing a service to practitioners and patients across New Jersey."

"Patients across our state deserve to be able to access their medicine without fear of endangering their professional status," said Eric Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). "By extending protections to patients and practitioners, we are creating a stronger, safer New Jersey.”

"Our hope is that this bill will remove cumbersome restrictions currently in place for New Jersey's alternative care practitioners and patients," said Carol Murphy (D-Burlington). "By allowing professionals to properly care for their patients, our residents can get the health care they need.”

The bill now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.

Benson, Zwicker Statement on Joint Hearing Discussion on Self-Driving Vehicles

The Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities and the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee met jointly Monday morning to receive testimony from invited guests concerning the development of autonomous vehicles and the regulation of autonomous vehicles operating in New Jersey. Chairmen Daniel Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex) and Andrew Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon) issued the following statements after the hearing:

Benson- "The pathway to fully autonomous vehicles runs first through safer technology assisted vehicles. New Jersey is home to some of the most densely driven roads in the Northeast. We can and should be a leader in this new technology and through stakeholder discussions can make that a reality.

"To do this, New Jersey has to first address how this new technology will impact the state's role in regulating drivers, vehicles and insurance. There's potential here to make our roads safer, to lessen pollution and to provide a new way for people and goods to get around the Garden State. I look forward to continuing this discussion in the Transportation Committee and through the proposed Task Force."

Zwicker- "Autonomous vehicles have the potential to change our mobility options as we know them and shape transportation for the next generation. As with any emerging technology, we must gain a better understanding of the numerous issues related to these vehicles with safety being at the very top of the list. 

"Another factor that will need in depth study is the impact on jobs, as well as cybersecurity, licensing agreements, insurance and cost. The testimonies we heard today will help ensure that we consider these issues in a thoughtful way and create smart legislation that is beneficial to the residents of New Jersey." 

The Assembly Transportation Committee voted to release a measure (AJR-164)--sponsored by Benson, Zwicker and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt that would establish the "New Jersey Advanced Vehicle Task Force." The task force is to conduct a study of advanced autonomous vehicles and to make recommendations on laws, rules, and regulations that this State may enact to safely integrate advanced autonomous vehicles on the State's highways, streets, and roads.

The Assembly Transportation Committee also considered three bills for discussion concerning autonomous vehicles:

A-1853 Permits testing and use of autonomous vehicles on state roadways under certain circumstances;
A-4541 Directs MVC to establish driver's license endorsement for autonomous vehicles; and 
A-4573 Establishes a fully autonomous vehicle pilot program.

Among the invited guests for today's hearing were representatives from Teamsters Local 469; New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers and the former administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Zwicker, Johnson Statements on Joint Assembly Hearing Discussing Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology

(TRENTON) - Following the joint hearing of the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology and the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committees, Chairman Andrew Zwicker and Chairman Gordon Johnson issued statements on the testimony:

"Today's hearing was a part of the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology Committee's mission to spur innovation as an economic driver in New Jersey. We wanted to address both the challenges and advantages of hydrogen and fuel cell technology so that we can develop public policies that will put New Jersey at the forefront of innovation technology," said Chairman Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). "It's now up to us to come up with legislation that makes sense for the people of New Jersey."

"Hydrogen and fuel cell technology is a nearly untapped alternative energy resource with both environmental and economic benefits for the state of New Jersey," said Chairman Johnson (D-Bergen). "Many residents are or will be driving, more and more, environmentally friendly vehicles. New Jersey needs to be prepared to take full advantage of this technology as we act to reduce pollution and greenhouse emissions.

"There's a great potential for opportunity for service stations, manufacturing plants and other businesses centered on hydrogen and fuel cell technology, hydrogen production, and stationary fuel cell use. We thank our guests today who came to share their insight on this topic."

New Jersey Leaders Commend Governor Murphy's Economic Development Strategic Plan

“The program introduced by the Governor today is an innovative approach to kickstarting New Jersey’s innovation economy. Auctioning tax credits to large companies and using those proceeds to provide matching funds that directly invest in emerging companies, creates an ecosystem that is a win-win all around. The end result will be a vibrant culture of investment in the companies of the future that will create high-quality, high paying jobs, grow our economy and positions New Jersey as a national leader.”-Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker

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