PENSION SYSTEM STATUS, CHRISTIE CUTS TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS, BILLS CREATING PROPERTY TAX RELIEF CREDIT & PROTECTING CONSUMERS FROM DEBT COLLECTORS TOP THURSDAY AGENDAS

Legislation targeting foreclosures, government regulations unfriendly to businesses, distracted driving and sentencing alternatives will also be considered

(TRENTON) — Discussions on New Jersey’s troubled state pension system, Gov. Chris Christie’s proposed clean energy cuts and efforts to reform affordable housing and bills to turn property tax rebate checks into a credit and to protect consumers from harassing debt collectors top Thursday’s Assembly committee agendas.

Legislation targeting unscrupulous car dealers, foreclosures, government regulations unfriendly to businesses, distracted driving and sentencing alternatives will also be considered.

All hearings will be streamed live at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/media/live_audio.asp.

The Assembly Budget Committee will meet to hear testimony from invited speakers on the status of the various state pension systems. The hearing comes after the Assembly last week unveiled a series of bills to reform public worker pensions and benefits.

The Assembly Telecommunications and Utilities Committee will hear testimony on Christie’s cuts to clean energy programs that have been benefiting New Jersey businesses.

“These fund raids are already hurting businesses and economic growth and our aggressive program to make New Jersey a leader in clean energy,” said Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula (D-Somerset/Middlesex), the committee chairman. “The governor’s plan takes us backward when we should be charging ahead and seizing the economic growth and new job creation that will come with the emerging green energy industry.”

The Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee will hear from invited guests on recent developments regarding the state Council on Affordable Housing and possible avenues for its reform.

“Creating a workable affordable housing plan — especially in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the union with expensive housing costs — will take teamwork, compromise and the combined efforts of the executive and legislative branches of government,” said Assemblyman Jerry Green (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset), the committee chairman. “I hope this hearing will be the first step toward everyone working cooperatively to devise a viable solution to New Jersey’s housing and planning concerns.”

The committee will also consider legislation Assemblymen John Burzichelli, Matt Milam and Nelson Albano sponsored to allow the state to convert cumbersome and expensive property tax rebate checks into a property tax credit.

“As budget constraints force us to focus property tax relief efforts on homeowners and renters most in need, then those constraints also should force us to finally rethink the way relief is distributed,” said Burzichelli (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “Now is the perfect time to stop wasting millions of dollars in printing and mailing costs and to turn to a system of direct credits.”

“Giving seniors and working families a direct property tax credit will ensure relief is delivered in a streamlined way that saves the state money and should be done as soon as possible,” said Milam (D-Cumberland/Atlantic/Cape May).

“The current rebate program is clunky and expensive and needs to be replaced with a simpler, more effective system of credits,” said Albano (D-Cumberland/Atlantic/Cape May). “Providing an easier way to deliver property tax relief and protect homeowner privacy is a win-win.”

The Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee will consider legislation (A-1700) Burzichelli, Milam, Wayne DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex) and Paul Moriarty (D-Gloucester/Camden) sponsored to combat unscrupulous debt collection practices. The New Jersey Fair Debt Collection Practices Act would eliminate abusive debt collection practices and provide consumers a way to dispute and validate debt information to ensure its accuracy.

The Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee will consider legislation (A-359) to protect homeowners in jeopardy of foreclosure from ‘foreclosure rescue’ scams perpetrated by unscrupulous lenders and consultants. The bill is sponsored by Gary Schaer (D-Passaic/Bergen/Essex), Burzichelli, DeAngelo and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer).

“These firms offer the promise of helping residents facing foreclosure with refinancing and restructuring their mortgage debt so that they can avoid becoming homeless,” Schaer said. “Unfortunately, some of the firms are nothing more than fronts for elaborate schemes to rob troubled homeowners of their hard-bought equity.”

The Assembly Higher Education Committee will hear testimony on concerns surrounding mental health care on college campuses.

“From student suicides to the Virginia Tech shootings nearly three years ago, we have seen the heart-wrenching consequences of students not getting the mental health support they need,” said Pamela R. Lampitt (D-Camden), the committee’s chair. “We are all extremely interesting in hearing what steps have been taken to identify and address mental health problems in the student population before they result in tragedy.”

The Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee will consider legislation John S. Wisniewski and Lampitt sponsored to require police accident reports to include whether drivers were distracted at the time of an accident.

“A quick glance at directions, a newspaper, a family pet or even the radio dial can mean the difference between a safe trip and a car accident,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “With distracted driving becoming the rule rather than the exception for many motorists, details concerning driver inattention should be required information on all police accident reports.”

It will also hear legislation (A-2060) L. Grace Spencer and Elease Evans sponsored to further help give released inmates an improved chance of success and to save taxpayer dollars by cutting recidivism through sentencing alternatives.

“This bill would not make it easier to serve sentences,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “What it would do is help ensure that after their time is served, prisoners re-entering society are ready to be productive citizens. That will save lives and taxpayer dollars.”

“Spending money time and time again on prisoners who come and go from our prison systems is, quite simply, a waste,” said Evans (D-Passaic). “We need to do better, not only for the wellbeing of the people trying to rebuild their lives in prison, but for taxpayers who need to know their money is spent smartly.”

The bill was among several introduced by Assembly Democratic lawmakers last session to save taxpayer money by cutting recidivism. Three were signed into law. This bill would modify existing law to authorize courts to:

  • Revoke fees at the time of sentencing;
  • Include mediation as an alternative condition of probation for both adults and juveniles;
  • Consider testimony from a defendant’s family as part of the presentence reports; and
  • Reduce the waiting period for disorderly persons expungements from five years to two years.

The Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee will begin considering legislation to cut back on state regulations that hurt New Jersey businesses. Legislation sponsored by Burzichelli to begin cutting back on burdensome rules and regulation and improve New Jersey’s business climate will be considered by the Assembly Regulatory Oversight and Gaming Committee.

“This is the first of what will be many steps to make order out of the chaos that is New Jersey’s bureaucratic nightmare of rules and regulations,” Burzichelli said. “Our tangled web of regulations may mean well, but they’ve largely done nothing more than stunt economic growth and hurt our business environment. We’re now on the road toward changing that.”

The committee chaired by Burzichelli will consider legislation (A-2464) that would:

  • Require all state agency rules to be published in the New Jersey Register; and
  • Ban state age
    ncies from using regulatory guidance documents, unless authorized to do so by state law.

The committee will also hear testimony on the feasibility of prohibiting a state agency from adopting any rule that would exceed federal standards or requirements, unless authorized to do so by state law.

The committee will also consider legislation Burzichelli sponsored to direct the State Commission of Investigation to look into the finances and operations of the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association. Burzichelli was the sponsor of a 2007 law that recently took effect that bars the NJSIAA from charging more for playoff tickets than it did for tickets during the regular season.

The bill (ACR-116) comes after the NJSIAA initially ignored the new law, until it was directed by acting Education Commissioner Bret Schundler to follow it.

“Neither I nor New Jersey taxpayers want to hear cries of poverty and threats to scale back events from a group that pays six figure salaries and grants generous benefits to multiple executives,” said Burzichelli.

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