POTENTIAL NJ TRANSIT FARE HIKES, U.S. SUPREME COURT’S CAMPAIGN FINANCE RULING & EDUCATION REFORM BILLS TOP ASSEMBLY’S THURSDAY AGENDAS

Panels Also to Hear from U.S. Rep. Pallone on Census; Acting Education Commissioner On Department of Education

(TRENTON) — Gov. Chris Christie’s cuts to NJ Transit and fare increases that may result, a look at what the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent campaign finance ruling means for New Jersey, a discussion with the acting education commissioner and legislation to update handicapped parking laws top Thursday’s Assembly agendas.

Panels will also hear bills to create an interdistrict public school choice program, ensure school employees don’t abuse school district paid-for tuition assistance programs by attaining bogus degrees and prohibit public transportation operators from using a wireless telephone or electronic communication device while their vehicles are moving.

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

The Assembly transportation panel will hear testimony on the potential impact of the governor’s plan to slash NJ Transit and the fare hikes and service cuts that may result.

“Gov. Christie’s plan will a have wide-ranging negative impact and may well equate to a hefty tax increase on lower- and middle-class New Jerseyans who have no other choice but to rely on NJ Transit to get to work,” said Assembly Transportation Chairman John Wisniewski (D-Middlesex).

The Assembly Judiciary Committee will hear testimony on how the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that removed campaign spending restrictions on corporations and unions will impact New Jersey’s laws.

“This ruling could have far-reaching impacts on our efforts here in New Jersey to keep money out of politics,” said Assembly Judiciary Chairwoman Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex/Mercer), the committee chairwoman.

The Assembly Education Commissioner will hear from acting Commissioner of Education Bret D. Schundler on Department of Education priorities.

It will also hear a bill (A-355) Assemblywomen Mila Jasey and Joan Voss sponsored to create a permanent public school choice program to allow parents to move their children to schools located across district lines.

“Public school choice is an important step to ensuring each child has the ability to attend a school that is best-suited to their individual needs and talents,” said Jasey (D-Essex).

It will also consider a bill sponsored by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph Cryan (D-Union) to ensure teachers and school administrators do not abuse school district paid-for tuition assistance programs by attaining bogus degrees.

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.”

The Assembly State Government Committee will hear from U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone and others on the process, procedures and impact of the 2010 U.S. Census.

The transportation panel will also consider legislation (A-407) sponsored by Assemblyman Patrick J. Diegnan Jr. to 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.

“Some people have become so addicted to their electronic devises that they put others in danger without even thinking about the consequences,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “It’s unfortunate that we even have to consider a bill like this, but history tells us it’s a real risk.”

It will also weigh legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Joan M. Quigley and Wisniewski to restrict the towing of handicapped vehicles and require 24-hour access to towed vehicles. 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 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 not respected,” said Quigley (D-Hudson.

The Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will hear from Major Gen. Glenn K. Rieth on the status of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs and its current activities.

The Assembly Human Services Committee will hear testimony Thursday on New Jersey’s Traumatic Brain Injury Fund amid impending rules that would limit whom the fund can help and concerns about how money has been spent.

Assembly Human Services Chairwoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) called for Thursday’s hearing after Assembly leaders heard testimony during the Feb. 2 special bipartisan hearing from residents concerned about impending limits that could knock 1,300 people from the fund. Concerns about the fund were also detailed Sunday by The Star-Ledger.

The article can be found here.

“The services and therapies provided by this Fund are often the last chance for many brain injury victims to recover a normal life,” Vainieri Huttle said. “Its intent is to help New Jerseyans suffering from a brain injury to obtain the services and support they need to live in the community, fostering their independence and maximizing quality of life. Any plan to change its intent is of great concern and needs a close look.”

The full committee agendas can be found here.

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