While most of NJ is distracted by the sudden uptick in COVID-19 cases–including members of the Murphy Administration’s inner circle, making it necessary for the Governor himself to quarantine–the State Legislature is quietly gearing up for a flurry of post-Election Day activity.
For those who follow Eye on Trenton, you’re already familiar with my wariness over the speed with which certain pieces of legislation have been moving during the pandemic. It has become increasingly common for a bill to be introduced, heard in Committee, put to a vote, and sent to the Governor for his signature into law, all in just a matter of days. This is understandable when it comes to COVID-related bills that need to be moved as a matter of emergency, but I’m noticing a disturbing trend where imperfect, hastily drafted bills are being pushed through quickly, during a time when public access to Committee hearings is strictly limited, and notification is often posted at the last possible moment.
Which is why the Legislative Calendar published today is cause for concern. Election Day is fast approaching on November 3rd, and with it, a growing wave of uncertainty over how long it will take to determine and certify the results, particularly the Presidential race. I think it’s generally expected at this point that there will be confusion and chaos in the weeks that follow this year’s election, and many of us will be more distracted than ever before.
And the reason that’s cause for concern? Because according to the schedule released today, the NJ State Legislature is planning on being quite active between early-November and late December 2020.
For example, until this morning, the schedule for November 9th called for only Group 1 Senate Committees to meet. As of today, that’s been changed to Committees at the Call of the Senate President, which means ANY of the Senate Committees from Groups 1 through 4 are subject to meet, at the whim of Senate President Sweeney. The Assembly is also calling for Committees at the Call of the Speaker, which means that a bill could get fast-tracked through both Houses in the same day, and voted upon at the very next Voting Session.
Speaking of which: November 16th is now slated to be Voting Session day for both the Senate and the Assembly, where previously, only Group 2 committee hearings were going to be held in the Senate, and Assembly Committees at the Call of the Speaker were planned.
The rest of the schedule released today reveals a number of opportunities between now and December 17th to move legislation quickly, if needed. Senate Committees in Group 1 & 2 will meet on December 7th, and Assembly Committees will meet at the Call of the Speaker . The same holds true for December 10th, with Senate Committee Groups 3 & 4 on the agenda. There are also two more chances for Assembly Committees to meet at the Call of the Speaker, on December 10 and December 14. Things finish up with a voting session in both Houses slated for December 17th.
It will be interesting to see how things shape up as the year wears on, but I expect special interest groups to be throwing their weight around in a big way over the next few weeks to try an secure a spot on the fast-track to final passage.
Time for political watchers to keep their eyes open, and diligently check the agenda for the Legislative Calendar for the reminder of the year. Or, you could just follow Eye on Trenton–because rest assured, we’ll be watching.