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    Robert Kennedy Jr. headlines Holley fundraiser

    Prominent anti-vaccination activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. held a fundraiser for Assemblyman Jamel Holley at da Benito in Union Township Tuesday morning.

    Holley said the event, which comes weeks after Holley lobbied against a bill eliminating a religious exemption for vaccination, raised roughly $100,000 dollars.

    That bill died in the lame duck session because lawmakers in the Senate failed to secure enough votes to pass it. An amended version of the bill that drew support from Republican State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon also failed to reach 21 votes.

    Holley said Kennedy met with members of the Legislative Black Caucus to talk about anti-vaccine arguments earlier in the morning.

    Three of the five senators who opposed the original vaccine bill — Sens. Nia Gill, Ronald Rice and Shirley Turner — are members of the caucus.

    Lawmakers are poised to make another push at reforming the legislative exemption, though it’s not likely that bill will closely resemble the version they attempted to pass during the lame duck session.


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    Holley whipping against vaccine bill

    Assemblyman Jamel Holley is whipping votes against an amended version of a bill eliminating religious exemptions for vaccinations due for a vote in the legislature’s lower chamber on Monday.

    The Assembly passed the original version of the bill 45-25 with six abstentions last month. The new version creates a carveout for private schools and daycares, though it requires those institutions report the number of enrolled children who inoculated.

    “With these new amendments, I can guarantee that a majority, if not all of the African American Members of the Assembly will not be voting in support of this bill that discriminates based on wealth, address and ability to afford private education,” Holley said. “I’m working the phones, and we have gained traction to defeat the bill.”

    Holley voted against the original bill, though 10 of the chamber’s black lawmakers voted in its favor. Two of those legislators, Assemblyman Herb Conaway and Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, are sponsoring the bill.

    Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake abstained, and Assemblymen Benjie Wimberly and Gordon Johnson did not vote on the measure.

    The new version is a result of negotiations with Republican State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, whose vote is needed to pass the bill in the legislature’s upper chamber, where defections from five Democratic senators stalled the bill last month.

    Even with O’Scanlon, the measure’s fate is far from guaranteed in the Senate, as the watering down the bill could push more Democrats to vote no.

    The amendments could have a similar effect in the Assembly.

    “Senator O’Scanlon’s vaccine amendments cuts into the fiber of all we have accomplished,” Holley said. “To suggest that we begin to segregate our students is an abomination of what every righteous leader should be standing up against.”


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    Holley claims Murphy playing politics on voting rights bill signing

    Assemblyman Jamel Holley claimed Gov. Phil Murphy excluded him from a bill signing for a measure restoring voting rights to persons on probation or parole.

    “They invited me to get a pen, but all the other main sponsors are a part of the program. He excluded me specifically,” Holley said. “I think what it is is that I’ve been very vocal against him and Ras regarding the water in Newark, and I think this is my sort of retribution, payback, whatever you want to call it. But at the end of the day, it’s disrespectful.”

    In October, Holley attacked Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka over their plan to remediate lead water lines in Newark, and he’s previously criticized Murphy for what he said was a slow-moving response on a bill allowing people expunge marijuana offenses from their criminal records.

    That bill will also be signed tomorrow.

    Murphy’s office denied playing politics, saying they had to limit the number of speakers because of time constraints.

    “The reality is this: We can’t have every sponsor speak at these events,” Murphy spokesman Dan Bryan said. “That’s never how it’s been, and we’re hoping that the event is about all those that are being helped by the legislation that’s being signed.”

    Holley is one of the measure’s six primary sponsors. He is the first prime sponsor on the expungement bill and the only first prime not offered a speaking role at the bill signing.

    The incident is another in a series of spats between top Trenton Democrats and members of the Legislative Black Caucus.

    State Sen. Ronald Rice, who in October claimed Murphy and other legislative leaders patronized black lawmakers, was invited to speak at the bill signing in Newark Wednesday morning but is declining to appear over Holley’s exclusion.

    “I know that we’re not perfect and we don’t treat other people the right way sometimes also, but I’m chairman of the caucus, and I stand by my members,” Rice said.

    Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter lost her post as majority conference leader after splitting with Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin on a number of key issues, including a millionaire’s tax backed by Murphy.

    It remains to be seen whether the incidents lead to a greater split within the party, but this tiff won’t do much to ingratiate Murphy to the legislature’s non-white members.

    “The petty politics the front office has displayed by excluding me from the program as a Primary sponsor of these great achievements is yet another example of how this Governor treats the black leadership of this state,” Holley said. “He will now parade around this state as if he is truly a social justice Governor when in fact he is not.  Let me clear, this Governor did not produce one vote in the Assembly or Senate, nor was he directly involved in assisting leadership to get this through. “
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    State assemblyman criticizes Murphy’s plan to remove lead water pipes

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    A Democratic state assemblyman is criticizing Gov. Phil Murphy’s plan to remove lead water service pipes around the state.

    Union County Assemblyman Jamel Holley says that Murphy has been “asleep at the switch” on the issue of lead contamination in New Jersey.

    “I’m choosing people over politics,” Holley says. “I like the governor. I think he’s a great man. But we’re just not on the same page on this issue.”

    Holley says that he thinks that the governor’s $500,000 plan is more of a reaction than anything else.

    “What we need is a comprehensive Marshall environmental plan instead of a reaction,” he says.

    Gov. Murphy revealed his administration's lead strategy last Thursday. Working off a report by New Jersey Water Works task force, the governor says he plans to replace every lead service line in the state by 2029, remove lead paint and remediate lead-contaminated soil.

    RELATED: Newark halts free bottled water program; gives out filters instead 
    RELATED: Gov. Murphy seeks $500M bond to replace lead paint, pipes 

    Holley, in August, asked for a state of emergency to be called to deliver bottled water in Newark. He says that he spoke to the governor by phone on Aug. 20.

    “The conversation quite frankly wasn't very respectful. In fact, the governor hung up the phone on me and we haven't talked since but I have been communicating with his administration,” Holley says.

    FULL COVERAGE: Lead-contaminated water crisis

    A spokesperson for the Murphy administration says in a statement, "Assemblyman Holley should focus on passing legislation to solve this issue instead of engaging in political theatrics from the backbench. His recent attacks on the Governor and Mayor are just pathetic attempts to make himself relevant."

    The governor's office also defended administration efforts and the work of Newark Mayor Ras Baraka to replace over 1,000 service lines to date.

    Holley says that he agrees with Newark state Sen. Ron Rice, another Democrat, who recently wrote a letter accusing the governor of patronizing African American leaders.

    “There's several other issues that we are confronted with, in particular in urban communities, in regard to social justice none of which have been resolved,” Holley says. “Water is a liberty, it is a right, but we have to get it right. And we are not getting it right here in the state of New Jersey."

    Holley says he's worked with the Elizabethport Presbyterian Center to collect more than 60,000 donated cases of water for places like Newark and Flint, Michigan.


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    Holley says Murphy ignored lead crisis

    Assemblyman Jamel Holley said Gov. Phil Murphy’s been asleep at the wheel on the state’s waterborne lead crisis.

    The Assembly Democrat took aim at Murphy’s handling of Newark’s water crisis, saying the governor slow-played action on the issue despite promising to focus on it during his 2017 gubernatorial campaign.

    Holley cited a list of recommendations the legislature sent Murphy in early 2018. Most of those recommendations went nowhere, and some were implemented with a fraction of the resources the joint legislative committee sought.

    For instance, the committee recommended issuing a $400 million bond to address the state’s lead water service lines. Only a quarter of that amount was issued, and it came as part of a separate $500 million bond.

    Holley’s criticisms of Murphy come days after State Sen. Ron Rice, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, claimed Murphy and legislative leaders patronized black officials and activists.

    Rice accused the governor, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin of slow-playing issues like marijuana decriminalization.

    Holley was one of the legislature’s biggest advocates for marijuana legalization.

    “No wonder Senator Ron Rice, the longest-serving African-American state senator in New Jersey history called out Governor Murphy for not listening to the plight of minority communities across the state,” Holly said. “It’s time for the Governor to act. Too many innocent lives are impacted.”

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    Outraged Holley: Newark and Area Residents ‘Remain Victims of Ecoside Purported by Environmental Racism’

    Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-20) was unimpressed by the press conference led by Gov. Phil Murphy and other elected officials this afternoon as they reported on the preliminary findings of lead contamination testing in the City of Newark.

    In fact, it infuriated him.

    “Until the City of Newark [that provides water to several municipalities including Elizabeth, Hillside, Belleville & Bloomfield] and the State of New Jersey can prove through comprehensive tests the water is safe to drink sadly the residents of those municipalities remain victims of ecoside purported by environmental racism.

    “Today’s press conference failed to include the validation and confirmation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency that the water is safe to drink without using a filter,” added the Roselle-based assemblyman.

    “What’s the point of testing only filters and not the full testing of the water flowing into the service lines,” he wanted to know. “Bottled water still needs to be distributed!”

    The NJ Sierra Cluub issued a similar response to the news.

    According to local sources in Newark, officials found houses using filters have lead levels of 10ppb. In August, The EPA tested and found high levels of lead with filters in two residences in Newark. The agency strongly encouraged the city of Newark to take immediate action.

     “The city of Newark has sampled 300 homes and found that of lead levels are at 10ppb. This levels are still too high given the impact of lead to children. Filters should be removing 99% of the lead in water. The CDC and the EPA said there should be no traces of lead in the water. The private well drinking act sets the standard for houses on wells for 5ppb. 10ppb but it is still way to high that will have serious health impacts on children and the people of Newark. Its shows we are doing too little too late,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Newark tried the Brita Solution that hasn’t worked, they tried the Poland Spring solution that also has not worked. The city needs a long term solution, the lead problem in Newark has been going on for far too long.”

    Lead levels in Newark’s water supply tested at 52 parts per billion between January 1 and June 30 of 2019. These are the highest levels ever recorded in Newark, an increase from 48 parts per billion during the last 6 months of 2018. Newark officials say orthophosphate corrosion control systems should begin to reduce the lead levels over the second half of 2019.

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    State Assemblyman Holley Calls on Gov. Murphy to Declare State of Emergency Over Newark Lead Water Crisis

    NEWARK, NJ - A state Assemblyman from a legislative district neighboring Newark called on Gov. Phil Murphy to declare a state of emergency in the face of the city's deepening lead water crisis.

    "I am pleading and suggesting to you as the Governor of this great State that a State of Emergency be called. This request comes on the backs of each human being in New Jersey that fears government has not appeared to show protection to them, nor has been transparent in this process that we together now face," Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D - Roselle) wrote in a letterpdf that he sent on Tuesday to Murphy and Newark Mayor Ras Baraka. 

    "When it comes to complex environmental issues such as lead and contamination, we know the effects it can have on human health and the sense of safety and well-being perceived by the community," Holley said in the letter first provided to TapInto Newark. "Government is there to ensure security, not display doubt. This matter has doubt. The public's faith in its government is at stake here."

    Holley, whose district includes the Union County municipalities of Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union, has already been publicly outspoken regarding the ongoing lead water crisis in Newark.

    "I am not going to divulge how disappointed I am with the leadership within this State on the handling of the water crisis our Newark community is facing," Holley said in an August 12 Facebook post. "However, as a State elected leader in Union County and former Mayor of the Borough of Roselle, I cannot idly stand by and watch our most vulnerable human beings particularly our children, seniors, and families suffer from poisonous lead levels."


    In the same post, Holley announced the beginning of a bottled water collection drive or behalf of Newark residents. A series of subsequent posts on Facebook indicate that the scope of the drive has spread, with donations coming from as near as Westfield and as far Brooklyn.

    Holley also indicated in a NJTV interview broadcast on August 13 that he would ask Murphy to call a state of emergency if the situation did not improve.

    Holley's call to Gov. Murphy to declare a state of emergency comes after a series of dramatic events related to the ongoing crisis of lead contamination in Newark's water.

    On August 9, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revealed testing results showing that out of three filters provided to Newark residents by the city to reduce lead in the water to safe levels, two had failed to work.

    At the same time, the EPA urged Newark residents to use bottled water for drinking and cooking until the results of the filter testing are fully understood and additional sampling is performed. 

    Meanwhile, bottled water distribution began last week at several locations throughout the city, but only for Newark residents of the western half of the city who are serviced by the Pequannock water treatment plant with lead service lines who have received filters. 

    Holley's letter was also sent to Belleville Mayor Michael Melham and Bloomfield Mayor Michael Venezia. Both municipalities are serviced by the Pequannock water treatment plant. He also sent the letter to Hillside Mayor Dahlia Vertreese. About 50 houses in Hillside are impacted by the water problem.

    Gov. Murphy has weighed in on the lead water crisis in Newark, visiting the city last week where he offered help distributing bottled water to city residents and pointed to the federal government's responsibility to improve water infrastructure. A federal district court judge is now deciding whether the city of Newark will be compelled to expand its emergency bottled water distribution to include residents of the eastern half of Newark, who are serviced by the Wanaque water treatment plan.

    In his letter to Murphy, Baraka, and other officials, Holley refers to the infamous lead water contamination crisis that began in Flint, Michigan five years ago. State and federal authorities ultimately declared a state of emergency in Flint in January 2016. Flint city officials recently announced they hope to complete lead service line replacement by the end of this year.

    Holley lists a series of steps that should be part of the enactment of the state of emergency, including an immediate take over by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the management of Newark's water system, dispatching the New Jersey National Guard to help distribute unexpired, bottled water to all municipalities affected, weekly test results of the Pequannock and Wanaque water systems, as well as the Cedar Grove filtration system, and additional lead testing locations for families and children. 

    Holley also suggested the governor petition the U.S. Attorney's Office to appoint a social prosecutor to review, investigate and make public all water, sewer, and repair contracts related with the Pequannock and Wanaque water systems,  as well as the Cedar Grove filtration system. 

    Alexandra Altman, a spokeswoman for Murphy, said, "The Governor is reviewing Assemblyman Holley's request and is considering all options."

    Holley acknowledged that he is a representative from a neighboring county, and is getting involved as he has in the past with humanitarian efforts around the state and country. "I am not going to sit idly by and not pitch in to help those who are vulnerable here," he said.

    "Humanitarian efforts are about people, not politics," he said. "Those who want to get involved in political pushback are not humanitarians."

    When asked if by calling for a state of emergency he was creating a panic, he pointed out that it was the opposite. The state of emergency "puts all hand on deck" and commits city, county, state and federal resources to provide comfort to citizens as solutions are found. 

    Mayor Baraka could not immediately be reached for comment. 

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