If there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that every Friday night, a new Legislative Calendar will be released at the very end of the day. This is when you’re most apt to find the announcement of controversial bills being heard in Committee the following week, after it’s too late to contact your local legislator because everyone has checked out for the weekend. Such is the legislative process in New Jersey.
Today, we were also treated to an updated Legislative Digest, which lists all of the new legislation that has been filed. This week’s edition has quite a few hidden gems–let’s discuss, shall we?
S2995/A4659 Prohibits government entity or school from requiring influenza vaccinations for persons who are 18 years of age or younger.
There’s been quite the battle brewing for the “Vaccine Choice” crowd, ever since the introduction of S2907/A4576 in late August/early September, which would make annual flu vaccinations mandatory for all students in NJ, from PreK through College.
These two new bills that dropped today are designed to counter such mandates for anyone age 18 and under. The Senate bill has only GOP sponsors, but the Assembly version has bi-partisan sponsorship, thanks to second prime sponsor Assemblyman Jamel Holley, an outspoken advocate for vaccine choice. Mandated vaccination bills have drawn quite a bit of ire over the past year, and it’ll be interesting to see if legislators are willing to stick their necks out on this one, especially with their 2021 re-election campaigns looming.
Speaking of Parental Choice…
S2889 would allow a parent or guardian to exclude a student from having to take a State assessment test. It also stipulates that schools will not be penalized for failure to meet a specified student participation rate on the State assessments as a result of this measure. This is reminiscent of the fierce battles over those ill-fated PARCC tests that were being pushed in NJ a few years ago.
Winter is Coming…But Outdoor Dining Can Stay
First introduced back in mid-August, A4525 extends the permit for temporary structures like canopies or tents to remain in place until indoor dining resumes in the State without capacity restrictions or December 31, 2020, whichever is later. The bill would also allow a temporary structure that a business or commercial entity has erected and is using for their business activity until the resumption of indoor occupancy or dining without capacity limitations. It passed unanimously on September 24, 2020. There’s finally a Senate version, S2980, and both bills now await a hearing in the Senate Economic Growth Committee.
This measure would certainly be helpful for restaurants who have been able to secure outdoor heaters, but there’s a dangerous catch here: every restaurant I’ve seen in NJ is utilizing party tents, which are not typically built to withstand strong wind or shed snow, and are not usually fire-rated. My concern is that we’re going to see some unfortunate accidents occurring if the party tents being utilized as outdoor dining spaces are pushed beyond their intended limits.
Groundbreaking legislation for Reproductive Rights: S3030/A4848 The Reproductive Freedom Act
There’s a lot to unpack here, but suffice to say that this legislation is one of the most sweeping measures regarding reproductive rights to ever dropin New Jersey. The bill would ensure that every individual in the State, regardless of whether they are a NJ resident, has a fundamental right to: 1) choose or refuse contraception or sterilization; and 2) choose whether to carry a pregnancy, to give birth, or to have an abortion. Under the bill’s provisions, no individual would be subject to prosecution or otherwise deprived of their individual constitutional rights to terminate their pregnancy. The bill specifies that a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus may not be understood to have independent rights under any of the laws of this State, and it further specifies that any health care professional, acting within the professional’s lawful scope of practice and in compliance with generally applicable regulations, is authorized to provide abortion care.
The bill also requires health insurance providers to provide coverage for abortions, without restrictions or waiting periods. The bill does make accommodation for religious employers who request an exclusion from the bill’s abortion coverage requirements if the required coverage conflicts with their bona fide religious beliefs and practices, but nevertheless it directs insurance companies to cover contraceptives, and it removes any existing Parental Notification requirements for minors seeking medical care related to pregnancy, including abortion. This legislation is a huge win for reproductive freedom, but is sure to be met with resistance by conservatives.
Personal Protective Equipment
There were a couple of measures put forth this week that seek to regulate the stockpiling and distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in New Jersey.
S2991/A4811 concerns the approval process for personal protective equipment, and State stockpiles of personal protective equipment. The bill requires the New Jersey Office of Emergency Management to establish a process to evaluate, provide feedback on, and approve personal protective equipment (PPE) for use during public health emergencies. The bill also requires the State to create PPE stockpiles for the State. These bills have bi-partisan support, and should move quickly before the end of the year.
Another bill listed today, A4791, exempts personal protective equipment from sales and use tax–a no-brainer that is should pass easily..
Unintended Consequence Cleanup in Aisle 12
S3006/A4767 This bill is probably the closest the NJ Legislature will come to admitting that they rushed through some legislation earlier this year without fully considering the possible consequences.
This bill address some issues that arose over legislation, passed during the height of the pandemic, that provided immunity to medical personnel. Unfortunately, it appears the bill was too sweeping in its scope, and was ripe for misinterpretation. According to S3006/A4767, the purpose of the earlier bill granting immunity to medical professionals was to “ensure that there are no impediments to providing medical treatment related to the COVID 19 emergency, and that all medical personnel supporting COVID-19 response are granted immunity.” Unfortunately, the bill was written in way that could be interpreted to grant immunity to all medical doctors and healthcare workers in New Jersey for all inpatient or outpatient procedures or any medical treatment rendered during the timeframe of the COVID-19 emergency. Can you say…lawsuits? The bill goes on to clarify that “medical care rendered in the ordinary course of medical practice does not provide the granting of immunity. It is not the Legislature’s intent to grant immunity for medical services, treatment and procedures that are unrelated to the COVID 19 emergency.” Oops. Thanks for the clarification. Let’s hope this “fix” bill moves quickly.
FILE UNDER: UGH WE ACTUALLY NEED A LAW FOR THIS?
S2988 criminalizes the possession and distribution of childlike sex dolls. As in, sex dolls that are intentionally designed to look like children. If this doesn’t pass both houses unanimously, just stop the planet and let me off already.
Should ELECTION DAY be a holiday or not? It depends on who you ask….
This is fun: there are two measures listed on today’s Legislative Digest that totally contradict one another. SR93/AR183, sponsored by Democrats, urges Congress to make Election Day a Federal holiday in the U.S., while A4774, sponsored by Republicans, would remove Election Day as a state and public holiday. Can’t we all just get along?
And, for the Indecisive Among Us..
A4754 would allow a voter who received a mail-in ballot to cancel their ballot and be issued a new one, as long as it is within a week before Election Day. Why? In case they suddenly change their mind and want to change their vote. Talk about a “can of worms.”
All Votes Matter. Or do they?
Last but not least, S679/A4756 would require the establishment of an automatic voter registration process at any agency or office providing hunting, fishing, or trapping licenses, similar to the process currently applicable at the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (NJMVC). I’m really curious to see if this gains any traction–I seriously doubt it will. As much as people talk about how registering to Vote is something to be promoted and encouraged, this bill would make it easier for hunters–people who traditionally vote Republican.
I’m skeptical that the Democrat-controlled legislature will move forward on this type of legislation anytime soon, especially with all seats in both Houses of the Legislature, as well as the Governor & Lt. Governor, up for re-election in 2021.