It was a frenetic week in New Jersey politics with lot of dramatic items gobbling up most of our attention. Here are a few nuggets you might have missed amid this year’s lame duck maelstrom.
Ties that Bind
Richard T. Smith is president of the NAACP NJ State Conference. While in Trenton to testify in support of George Norcross and of massive tax breaks for major corporations, he said something that got my attention.
“There is no better branding, none, for civil rights and equal opportunity than the NAACP,” Mr Smith noted.
I happen to agree.
George Norcross has a pretty strong brand, as well. It’s a brand that includes, among other things, doling out taxpayer-funded jobs like it’s the family store. Norcross and his crew (including NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney) are the gatekeepers for anyone looking to score a public-sector job or contract in South Jersey.
That breeds a certain kinda loyalty.
Sweeney loomed large over Monday’s hearings. He’s BFFs with Mr Norcross and he personally hand-selected the committee members and the invited speakers including Mr Smith, leader of NJ’s NAACP.
Mr Smith also happens to be the warden at Cumberland County’s Department of Corrections, located in Sweeney’s district.
If Mr Smith happened to mention his tenure at a job Senator Sweeney surely signed off on, I missed it. I’ve seen Mr Smith in action advocating for things I care about like drug reform and LGBTQ liberty. He’s an impressive orator and a fierce organizer who’s probably qualified and deserving of his $105,000 base salary.
But it’s another example of the connective tissues that made Monday’s hearing feel shady and incestuous.
Keep on Truckin’
Fresh from the “Nobody ordered this BS” file, we have legislation that furtively advanced in Trenton that prompted a dire warning warning from Trentonian’s Jeff Edelstein.
“The lives of hundreds of thousands of New Jerseyans are about to be destroyed ,” he predicted ominously.
He’s referring to legislation (S4204) that’s been fast-tracked through the state house under the guise of protecting independent contract workers in the gig economy.
“This bill is horrible and should be set on fire,” Mr Edelstein added.
Lisa Yakomin is president of the Association of Bi-State Motor Carriers, an organization that represents truckers who serve the NY-NJ ports.
“Seventy-seven percent of truckers who serve the Ports of NY and NY are independent contractors,” Ms Yakomin told InsiderNJ noting this bill will ““destroy the independent owner-operator trucker model…..We have a shortage of truckers as it is!”
Not only should NJ Governor Phil Murphy veto this bill, he should do so with some serious fanfare.
Facing immense blowback to this ill-conceived legislation, Sweeney acquiesced to some changes which, admittedly, makes this legislation less awful. Selfishly I’ll point out that freelance writers for example wouldn’t get kicked in the teeth like before.
“This isn’t over,” Ms Yakomin said noting an ongoing “lack of transparency and trust” after Sweeney’s ghastly, Teamster-friendly first draft.
“Sweeney tried to change/discard the rules for independent contractors, got tremendous pushback from workers who were about to lose their basic rights to work,” Ms Yakomin explained.
First of all, why did Sweeney float this half-baked legislation to begin with? And secondly, why the rush?
“The concern that still hasn’t been addressed is the haste with which this is being done. That hasn’t changed,” Ms Yakomin told InsiderNJ. “Let’s take a breath, let’s watch California (where a similar measure is now law) and learn from their mistakes. If we wanna have these conversations about workers in the gig economy, let’s give it the time this debate deserves.”
Senator Vin Gopal was more circumspect and diplomatic about his opposition:
“I have been deeply opposed to S4204 which impacts independent contractors,” Sen Gopal announced on Facebook. “Over the past few days I have been speaking with the Senate leadership about my opposition to this bill. Leadership has been very receptive to the concerns that I and others have raised about this well-intentioned piece of legislation and I believe they are understanding more and more of the unintended consequences of this bill so I am very pleased that leadership has worked to make changes with the statement they made tonight.”
Vaping and whatnot
A couple months ago I got bronchitis from vaping a bootleg cannabis cartridge. I wrote about it and got considerable reaction from folks across the spectrum on this issue which got me thinking.
Consider this: One one hand we’ve got kids who probably never would’ve smoked cigarettes but are addicted to nicotine anyway because they vape. That’s obviously very bad.
On the other hand, there are lots of adults who’ve managed to quit smoking cigarettes using vaping as a harm reduction technique that often leads to kicking the habit altogether. And that’s a good thing.
The NJ legislature is considering legislation to basically ban most vaping products in NJ. This is a reaction to the spate of deaths attributed to vaping although most of those illness and deaths were attributed to faulty, bootleg cannabis cartridges like mine.
There has to be some kind of middle-ground policy that’s not a ban but still manages to protect our kids whose developing brains and lungs leave them especially vulnerable to negative consequences.
Can we please talk about a middle ground please?