ELEC: Most Lobbied Bills Included Two State Budgets, Abortion Rights, COVID-19 Issues

Insider NJ editor Max Pizarro looks at the political standoff between the NJ Legislature and Gov. Phil Murphy over the proposed 2020 budget, which was passed by both the Assembly and Senate and is in Murphy's hands.

Two state budget bills loaded with COVID-19 spending, two bills directly spurred by the virus crisis plus
a bill that would protect abortion rights in New Jersey rank among the most heavily lobbied bills in the current legislative session.

The ranking was based on quarterly lobbying reports filed with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission (ELEC) since the start of the 219th Legislative session in January 2020.
Jeff Brindle, ELEC’s Executive Director, said state budgets have ranked at or near the top of three previous lobbying studies. “What makes the current session unusual is that billions of dollars in the two adopted budgets was targeted at the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.

For instance, more than $1.2 billion has been set aside just to provide rental assistance and eviction
prevention.

“All budgets contain thousands of other programs as well that affect the lives of virtually every New
Jersey resident,” Brindle said. “It is therefore not a surprise that budgets usually draw the most intense lobbying.”

The two budget bills generated at least 830 official contacts- 483 involving the fiscal year 2020-21 budget (S-2021/A-4720), 273 involving the fiscal year 2021-22 budget (A-5870/S-2022), and 74 where the fiscal year is unclear.

The next most lobbied bill has only been introduced. But it involves a perennially controversial issue: abortion.

The bill (A-4848/S-3030) would adopt a state statute legalizing abortion in New Jersey at a time when
federal protection is facing a serious challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court. Even without any public hearings, the bill already has spurred 223 official contacts.

Two bills directly related to the COVID-19 pandemic round out the top five most lobbied bills.

One (S-2559/A-4179) expands health insurance to apply to health care services provided via the internet,
either by doctors or others. It drew 160 official contacts and has passed both houses. It is awaiting the governor’s action.

A second bill (S-2380/A-3999) prompted by the pandemic extends workers compensation and other work-related benefits to essential employees who contract COVID-19. The bill, which has been signed into law, attracted 154 official contacts.

“While there is no exact way to gauge the impact of the virus outbreak on lobbying, reports filed with
ELEC suggest the pandemic has been a major focus during the latest legislative session,” said Brindle.
For instance, of the 16,415 official contacts reported to the agency during this session, 2,033- more than
12 percent- involved the public health crisis.

The New Jersey Business and Industry Association reported the most activity among organizations
lobbying on the COVID-19 related bills identified by ELEC. Thirteen groups ranked on the top ten list (includes ties) combined to make 555 contacts- almost a third of the total.

Rounding out the top ten ranked by official contacts are:
 a bill that legalized recreational use of marijuana (A-21/S-21).
 a bill (A-4402/S2902) that would have imposed a tax on Wall Street transactions occurring in New
Jersey. It was blocked by heavy opposition.
 legislation (S-232/A2212) signed into law that allows state environmental officials to block
permits for polluting facilities in neighborhoods already heavily exposed to such risks.
 a bill (S-2515/a-4676) approved by the state Senate that requires plastic containers and packaging
include a minimum amount of recycled material.
 a bill (A-1116/S-2674) that cleared the state Assembly that standardizes local regulations for the
construction of 5G telecommunications networks.

While ten bills generated the most official contacts, that didn’t always mean a lot of groups were involved
with each issue.

The most notable example is the abortion bill, which drew the third largest number of official contacts yet involved only 10 groups, the smallest among the top ten.

Likewise, a bill involving COVID-related insurance benefits involved more groups than the 2021-22 state
budget.

While state law requires lobbyists to disclose their official contacts involving legislation and other
regulated activities, the reader should be aware that such a contact can be limited or broad.

For example, a lobbyist might report that a client hospital’s chief executive met with the legislative
sponsor and an aide in an office. That would count as one contact.

Another lobbyist might report sending emails to all 120 members of the legislature urging them to support, oppose or modify the same bill. ELEC staff counts such an outreach effort as one official contact even though it may target more than one lawmaker.

Another caveat- while quarterly lobbying reports disclose direct attempts to influence legislation, they don’t disclose more indirect efforts.

Lobbyists sometimes organize “grassroots” campaigns to mobilize the public for or against legislation using advertisements aired on television or other media. Efforts to harness legislative constituents in this way are disclosed in annual lobbying reports.

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