(TRENTON) — Legislation to protect consumers, taxpayers and jobs top Assembly’s Thursday voting session agenda.
The Assembly will vote on several consumer protection bills, including a measure sponsored by Assembly Democrats Paul Moriarty, Nelson Albano (D-Cumberland/Cape May/Atlantic), Ruben J. Ramos Jr (D-Hudson) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) to make it illegal to mail unsolicited checks that once cashed enroll consumers in costly programs.
Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden) drafted the bill (A-658) after a constituent showed him an unsolicited $8.25 check they received from a company. Cashing the check would enroll the consumer in an automotive roadside assistance program that costs $15.99 per month.
“These so-called free money offers are at their best deceptive and, at their worst, downright dishonest,” Moriarty said. “Right now, consumers are at their most vulnerable to fall for a scheme that appears to offer them instant cash but would end up costing them much more in the long-run.”
Also on tap is legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Matthew Milam to protect consumer debit card account numbers. The bill (A-310) clarifies that both credit card and debit card account numbers must be truncated on sales receipts, including copies retained by merchants.
“This bill just makes common sense,” said Milam (D-Cumberland/Cape May/Atlantic). “In this day and age, when identity theft is proving all too common, there’s no reason why a consumer’s credit or debit card number should ever be made available to others.”
Amid continued concern about children’s jewelry tainted with toxic materials, the Assembly will also consider legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. and Moriarty targeting unsafe jewelry. The bill comes after 55,000 “Princess and the Frog” necklaces were recalled because they may contain high levels of the toxic heavy metal cadmium.
Under the bill (A-2076), no one may sell, distribute, import or manufacture jewelry in New Jersey that contains materials classified as unsafe. The bill also includes stricter restrictions on materials used in children’s jewelry and body piercing jewelry.
“Buying a necklace or a charm bracelet shouldn’t bring about fears of lead and mercury poisoning, yet the health and safety of New Jerseyans are at risk,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “It’s time these harmful products are taken down from store shelves for good.”
Diegnan is also sponsoring a bill up for consideration that would prohibit public transportation operators from using a wireless telephone or electronic communication device while their vehicles are moving. The bill stems from a commuter train crash in California that killed 25 people. Investigators found the operator of the passenger train sent a text message 22 seconds before the collision with an oncoming freight train.
Legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Joan M. Quigley and Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex) to restrict the towing of handicapped vehicles and require 24-hour access to towed vehicles will also be considered. The bill (A-2254) stems from a recent incident in New Brunswick in which the city towed the car of a Rutgers student, Sarah Brown, even though the car had a handicapped parking placard. The spot was reserved for a nearby handicapped homeowner, though Brown’s father told The Star-Ledger that the handicapped parking sign wasn’t clear. The car was towed on a Saturday night, but since the towing company was closed on Sunday, Brown couldn’t retrieve her car and her medicine inside until Monday.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to legislate matters like this, but unfortunately the rights of the handicapped and consumers are many times not respected,” said Quigley (D-Hudson).
Legislation Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan sponsored to ensure teachers and school administrators do not abuse school district paid-for tuition assistance programs by attaining bogus degrees will also be considered. The bipartisan bill (A-1894) stems from an episode at the Freehold Regional High School District where three administrators used $8,700 in taxpayer funds to pay for doctoral “degrees” from Breyer State University — an unaccredited online diploma mill. Before the bogus nature of the degrees was uncovered, the district provided each with a $2,500 salary increase, which was commensurate to their being awarded actual doctoral degrees.
“The use of school money to buy a fraudulent degree from a diploma mill is not only academically and professionally dishonest but slap in the face of taxpayers,” said Cryan (D-Union). “This kind of sham should never be allowed to happen.”
Also to be considered is legislation Assembly members Angel Fuentes and Vainieri Huttle sponsored to protect New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities from abusive caregivers.
“One of government’s primary objectives is to protect those who cannot protect themselves,” said Fuentes (D-Camden). “Creating a registry of abusive caregivers will allow us to better protect individuals who must rely on the care of others to survive.”
Under the Fuentes/Vainieri Huttle bill (A-2038), the state Department of Human Services would be required to create a Central Registry of Offenders Against Individuals with Developmental Disabilities, which would identify those caregivers who have wrongfully caused injury — abuse, neglect or exploitation — to a developmentally disabled individual.
A three-bill package sponsored by five Assembly Democratic lawmakers to make it easier for consumers and businesses to pay utility bills and to help businesses save on energy costs will also be weighed. The three bills are sponsored by Assembly members Upendra Chivukula, Dr. Joan M. Voss (D-Bergen), Ramos, Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen) and Albert Coutinho (D-Essex).
“Technology is so readily at our fingertips in this day and age, but our laws haven’t kept pace when it comes to paying a utility bill or finding ways to help businesses save on energy,” said Chivukula (D-Somerset).
A Coutinho bill (AR-54) emphasizing the need to address the Bayonne Bridge’s low clearance and keep New Jersey’s port economy vibrant will also be considered. The Bayonne Bridge is too low to allow new super-sized cargo ships to reach Port Newark and Port Elizabeth. If the span isn’t updated, the regional economy will suffer from lost shipping trade, said Coutinho, chairman of the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
Coutinho noted the ports provides more than 270,000 jobs, but said 50,000 jobs could be lost if the bridge problem isn’t fixed expeditiously.
“New Jersey could start losing business and jobs as these larger ships start using other ports,” Coutinho said. “That would be devastating to New Jersey’s economy, and that’s something we cannot let happen for the good of our businesses and workers. It’s a real possibility that 50,000 jobs are on the line here, so resolving this problem expeditiously is a must.”
Two Assembly Democratic bills to help laid-off police and firefighters are also on the agenda. The bills are sponsored by Assembly members Ralph Caputo (D-Essex), Johnson, Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex) and Coutinho.
The first bill (A-207) sponsored by Caputo, Johnson and Tucker would allow county sheriffs to hire — without having to go through any Civil Service list of eligible employees- law enforcement officers that have been laid off by other law enforcement agencies for economic reasons.
The other bill (A-2031) sponsored by Johnson and Coutinho would permit municipal fire departments to hire a laid off firefighter without utilizing a Civil Service list provided, in part, that the termination occurred within 60 months before appointment with the new fire department. Also to be considered is legislation Assemblymen Fred Scalera and Assemblywoman Elease Evans sponsored to require large entertainment facilities to file evacuation plans with local municipal emergency management coordinators.
“Municipal officials an
d venue operators both need to know how an emergency situation will be handled,” said Scalera (D-Essex/Bergen/Passaic). “The current security climate requires us to be prepared to handle anything. Nothing should be left to chance.”
Under the measure (A-1589), every New Jersey entertainment and sports facility that holds more than 5,000 people would be required to prepare and maintain an evacuation plan in coordination with local emergency response agencies. A copy of that plan would be filed with the municipality which hosts the venue.
“Local officials need to be ready if an emergency requires thousands fans to evacuate a facility,” said Evans (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Ensuring spectators can get out in a safe, orderly and responsible manner must be a top priority.”
The session will be streamed live here.
On the Net:
The Assembly Democratic Office Web site
NJ Assembly Dems on YouTube
NJ Assembly Dems on Vimeo
NJ Assembly Dems on Facebook
NJ Assembly Dems on Twitter
NJ Assembly Dems on Flickr
NJ Assembly Dems e-mail alerts