New Jersey lawmakers to vet Democrats' $35.3 billion budget

The Associated Press
June 22, 2015
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TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The fate of New Jersey's multi-billion dollar budget is about to come into sharper focus.

The Democrat-led Legislature on Tuesday is set to take up a just-unveiled $35.3 billion budget that contrasts sharply with Gov. Chris Christie's $33.8 billion spending blueprint. During budget committee action, lawmakers are expected to vet the proposal that includes a tax increase on income over $1 million as well as a corporate business tax surcharge of 15 percent. Democrats also are making a $3.1 billion payment to the public pension, compared with Christie's proposed $1.3 billion.

The Democratic proposal comes as Christie considers a run for the White House and as the fiscal year ticks closer to its June 30 expiration. It's also a familiar legislative tug-of-war. Democrats have previously proposed raising taxes, only to see Christie line-item veto them out.

Democrats say their proposals make good on a 2011 obligation to pay into the state's pension fund despite a state Supreme Court ruling that bolstered Christie's proposal for a reduced payment.

Benson, Greenwald, Lagana & Vainieri Huttle Cord Blood Bank Tax Deduction Bill Approved by Assembly Panel

May 11, 2015

An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, Joseph Lagana and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to help more families afford the opportunity to bank their child's cord blood in the event of a medical emergency down the road.

The bill (A-1030) would extend New Jersey's gross income tax medical expense deduction to certain cord blood banking services.

"This bill would make cord blood banking more cost-effective for New Jersey residents while encouraging the proliferation of cord blood banks in our state," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "Hopefully this change will allow more parents to afford this potentially life-saving service."

Cord blood banking involves collecting blood left in a newborn's umbilical cord and placenta and storing it for future medical use because of the potentially lifesaving stem cells contained in it. Stem cells have the ability to develop into other types of cells, so they can help repair tissues, organs, and blood vessels and can be used to treat a host of diseases, like leukemia, Hodgkin's disease, blood disorders, and immune deficiencies.

"Even though we don't like to think about medical emergencies arising down the road for our children, it's wise to plan for the possibility," said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). "This tax benefit will allow more parents to do so and could ultimately save lives."

Greenwald: It's time to modernize New Jersey's outdated liquor licensing laws

March 18, 2015

It was a very different time in 1962. John F. Kennedy had been president only since the year before. "Lawrence of Arabia" was the top-grossing movie. Future football and baseball all-star Bo Jackson was born. America hadn't yet gone to the moon or explored the deep reaches of the solar system. Computers took up the entire size of massive rooms, rather than fitting in the palm of a hand. Certainly, there was no internet economy or social media bringing the entire world to our fingertips from the comfort of a living room.

As a nation, we've changed a lot since then. Over that time, we've had to adapt to emerging realities to make sure our laws address issues ushered in by technological revolutions and better position an evolving society for continued success.

Unfortunately, when it comes to New Jersey's liquor laws, we continue to be mired in the past. Since 1962, New Jersey law has prohibited the sale of alcoholic beverages in the vast majority of supermarkets by imposing an overly strict cap on supermarket liquor licensing. These laws are holdovers from a bygone era, when only "mom and pop" corner stores dotted the landscape. More critically, the outdated cap was created more than 50 years ago to combat price fixing and to fight organized crime -- concerns that are clearly outdated now.

N.J. lawmakers approve direct car sales by Tesla

Philadephia Inquirer
March 17, 2015
Andrew Seidman
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Electric-car manufacturers such as Tesla Motors would be able to bypass auto dealerships and sell their vehicles directly to consumers under a bill passed by the Legislature on Monday.

The Democratic-controlled Senate also tried but failed to override Gov. Christie's controversial veto of legislation that would overhaul the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

The Senate voted 30-2 in favor of the Tesla bill. The Assembly passed it 77-0, with one abstention, in June.

It now heads to Christie, about a year after the Motor Vehicle Commission ruled against Tesla's direct-sales model and the company's chief executive, Elon Musk, accused the governor of cutting a "backroom deal" with the auto-dealer lobby.

Christie had said Tesla needed to work with the Legislature to change the law to accommodate its model. Kevin Roberts, a spokesman for the Republican governor, said the bill would "be reviewed in the 45 days we have to take action now that it has passed in a final form."

Under current regulations, cars must be sold through franchised dealers.

Bill to Create Tax-Free Savings Accounts for Individuals with Disabilities Advanced Assembly Panel

March 20, 2015

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Daniel Benson to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

The bill (A-3956) would establish a program within the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities known as ABLE - Achieving a Better Life Experience - in accordance with the federal "Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014," which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2014.

"The goal of this law is to ease the financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover many day-to-day expenses," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "This is an important tool to help provide financial security throughout their lives."

"This new law will allow people with disabilities to open specialized accounts where they can save up to $100,000 without risking eligibility for Social Security and other government programs," said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). "Even more importantly, individuals can keep their Medicaid coverage no matter how much money they accrue in an ABLE account."

To be eligible, individuals must have a condition that occurred before age 26 and each person may only open one ABLE account. As set forth in the federal law, qualifying disability expenses would include expenses made for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including:

· education expenses;

· housing and transportation expenses;