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Assembly Panel Advances Stender & Benson Measure to Prevent Christie Admin from Doing Away with Civil Service System

Measure Seeks to Prevent Nepotism & Cronyism by Keeping Time-Honored, Competitive Job Protection Practices in Place

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Linda Stender and Daniel Benson to prevent the Christie administration from doing away with time-honored, competitive civil service job protections was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

The measure seeks to halt the administration’s efforts to replace the state’s civil service promotional examinations with a “job banding program” by declaring the move unconstitutional. Once the resolution is approved by both houses, the administration would have 30 days to amend or withdraw the new rule or the legislature may, by passage of another concurrent resolution, exercise its authority under the constitution to invalidate the regulations in whole or in part.

“For decades, the civil service examination process has helped reduce discrimination and patronage and protect jobs for those who have traditionally been discriminated against, like women, veterans and minorities,” said Stender (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “This helps ensure that promotions are based on merit and fitness and protects career public employees from political coercion. By radically altering this system, the administration is opening the door to allow nepotism and cronyism to corrupt the hiring and promotion process.”

In March of last year the state Civil Service Commission proposed a new rule, known as the “Job Banding Program,” which was formally adopted last month, effectively eliminating promotional examinations for thousands of state government positions and excluding job titles in the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System that are currently subject to a formal examination process.

“What the civil service system does is ensure that employees are selected and advanced on the basis of their relative knowledge, skills and abilities,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This ensures equal employment opportunity at all levels of public service and protects career public employees from political coercion. Under the proposed changes, hiring preferences for veterans would be eliminated along with existing protections for other qualified minorities and competitive examinations for certain police and fire positions would be at risk. We can’t allow politics to trump proficiency in the hiring process.”

Stender and Benson noted that the New Jersey Constitution (Article VII, Section I, paragraph 2) stipulates that appointments and promotions in the civil service of the state and various local governments shall be made according to merit and fitness to be ascertained, as far as practicable, by competitive examination, as far as practicable. Although, the constitution carves out exceptions, allowing preference in appointments by reason of active service in any branch of the military or naval forces of the United States in a time of war.

In doing so, it has been the responsibility of the Civil Service Commission to:

– establish and maintain a classification system that establishes titles, assigns titles to appropriate positions and provides a specification for each title;

– provide for the announcement and administration of examinations, which shall fairly test knowledge, skills and abilities required to satisfactorily perform the duties of any title or group of titles; and

– administer promotional examinations and certify the three eligibles who have received the highest ranking on a promotional list for purposes of filling vacant positions.

The measure approved today finds that the new job banding rule is contrary to the spirit, intent, and plain meaning of the provision in the New Jersey Constitution that requires that promotions be based on merit and fitness to be ascertained by examination.

“If we allow the administration to do away with civil service exams in favor of ‘job banding,’ an employee’s proficiency and skill levels will be ignored in favor of a manager’s personal preferences,” added Stender. “The only ones who will benefit from these changes are the politically-connected and ultimately that does a disservice to hardworking employees and the public they serve.”

The New Jersey Constitution states that upon finding that an existing or proposed rule or regulation is not consistent with legislative intent, the Legislature shall transmit this finding in the form of a concurrent resolution to the Governor and the head of the Executive Branch agency which promulgated the rule or regulation.

Once today’s resolution is approved by both houses, copies would be filed with the Secretary of State and transmitted to the Governor and the Civil Service Commission. The Civil Service Commission would then have 30 days to amend or withdraw this new rule or the legislature may, by passage of another concurrent resolution, exercise its authority under the constitution to invalidate the regulations in whole or in part.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.