League Chatter

With the 2022 League of Municipalities annual convention in the rearview mirror, let’s take stock of what folks wanted to chat about down in Atlantic City. Last year the hot topic was weed. The year before COVID, it was #MeToo stuff. Here’s what seemed to be on your minds this year down in Atlantic City:

Abortion Referendum?

When my Planned Parenthood-adjacent pals down in Atlantic City told me there might be an referendum on the ballot next November, I assumed it was to fire me up.

”I’m with you!” I replied. “I’ll bundle tons of cash for the campaign and give you my blood, sweat, and tears on the battlefield to defend abortion rights!”

I was surprised to discover that some of my pro-choice friends didn’t actually want a referendum which they view as an expensive distraction that’s less about abortion rights and perhaps intended to boost Democratic voter turnout in a legislative election year. Stunningly, those same democrats hoping an abortion referendum would pad their numbers wanted someone else to pay for their very expensive referendum.

The abortion referendum trial balloon popped late last week. There will be no abortion referendum on NJ’s November 2023 ballot.

“Advocates raised serious concerns,” one League convention goer  told InsiderNJ. “How could something so important be rushed without proper time to review language? (An abortion ballot measure) would do nothing to increase access and the state already has some of the most comprehensive abortion rights law in the country. And with no federal races to occupy the conservative right, New Jersey would be flooded with tens of millions of dollars in anti-abortion propaganda from around the country.”

(Democratic leaders could always vote to further codify abortion rights in New Jersey if so inclined. But they won’t lest they reveal squeamishness on abortion from a handful of male lawmakers in districts perceived to be vulnerable. They are, it would appear, are still smarting from losing several seats to the GOP last year. Now, if I’m a democrat in Trenton, I’m looking for opportunities to brandish my support for abortion rights, not despite last year’s legislative losses but because of them. But that’s a story for another day.)

Cigarettes in Casinos

The debate over indoor smoking in casinos was right under everyone’s nose in Atlantic City.

Depending on which entrance you used, the smell of cigarette smoke hits like a ton a bricks the instant you step inside. I found the Borgata to be especially smokey and when I did my League laundry 48 hours later, my clothes still reeked.

”Oh wait that’s not frankincense?” One observer quipped.

But seriously though.

“Every year I leave the League and my chest is tight and my voice raspy,” Lawrence councilwoman Cathleen Lewis said on social media afterwards. “I wonder if I’m getting sick and then I realize this is what casino floors do to me.”

She’s not alone.

“Used my inhaler more in the past two days than the rest of the year combined. I feel terrible for people who work in that daily,” came one reply.

Permitting indoor cigarette smoking is a dangerous health risk to everyone inside a casino, especially the employees. The Casino Lobby says banning indoor smoking is bad for business all the while, it’s totally possible that the opposite is true.

Senate President Nick Scutari and Assembly Speaker Crain Coughlin are reluctant to post legislation to ban indoor casino smoking, a practice that feels more out-of-step with each passing year. There are over 20 Senate co-sponsors on the bill to end casino smoking, indeed more than enough voters to get this legislation to the Governor’s desk.

The pressure to end casino smoking feels like it’s building to a crescendo. I’m betting that NJ casinos are smoke-free by next year’s League event at which point we can all breathe easier.

Abortion Part 2

I was surprised how often straight guys wanted to discuss abortion down in Atlantic City. In many cases, with their daughters or their girlfriend in mind, these men had strong and pent-up opinions about the overturn of Roe v Wade. Even some of my conservative buddies are a mixture of bewildered and livid and also kinda freaked out about how politically radioactive this issue has become for their party.

We’re heading into the first Thanksgiving since the Dobbs decision banned abortion in half of America. And while it’s one thing for guys to unburden themselves to a gay buddy after a few rounds of shots, men need to start having conversations about abortion with the women in their lives and why not during the holiday? (If you’re a straight guy waiting for a sign to discuss abortion rights with your girlfriend or your daughter, this is your sign. If you’re unsure how to start a conversation like that, asking how they feel about it is usually a good bet.)

Jay Lassiter is a writer and activist based in Cherry Hill, NJ. If Twitter hasn’t imploded by the time you read this, he’s @Jay_Lass.

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2 responses to “League Chatter”

  1. The only way to change the state constitution, which is part of the national push to protect abortion rights, would be to have a statewide referendum.

  2. The smoking issue has been a “grave” (pun intended) concern since the Surgeon General’s report on Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS) in 2006. Here’s the thing: anyone who started working at a casino BEFORE 2006, had not way of knowing that ETS could be deadly or was even harmful. Those thousands of dealers and other casino workers have seniority, great pay and benefits, and could never support their families and put their kids through college in just any other job. It’s time to end the discrimination that these human beings are putting up with every day by just going to work.

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