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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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Assemblyman Jamel Holley fired back at Assemblyman Herb Conaway after the latter suggested Holley’s vocal opposition to a leadership-backed bill eliminating a religious vaccination exemption could be losing him some support in the chamber.
“This legislation stripping the rights of human beings is indicative of the virus that has infected our politics in New Jersey and this country,” Holley said. “When elected officials support legislation that segregates our citizens for the benefit of special interest, you can trust and believe that I’ll be on the side of the people, always. If this is a threat to silence my voice, I have one simple message: Bring it on.”
Holley has been the vaccine bill’s chief opponent in the Assembly. He lobbied members of the Legislative Black Caucus against an amended version of the bill that would have created a carveout for private schools and day cares.
Last week, prominent anti-vaccine activist Robert Kennedy held a fundraiser for Holley and met with members of the LBC to discuss anti-vaxx arguments.
It’s not yet clear whether Holley’s opposition to the vaccine bill will affect his chances at re-election, but a dissatisfied leadership team could complicate the contest.
“I have every right just as well as every other member of the Legislature to support or oppose any legislation that comes before me,” Holley said “When it came to a segregated piece of legislation and an attack on removing religious exemptions and the right to parental choice to make medical decisions for their children by class, wealth, and zip code, I chose to stand with the people.”
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Moving on criminal justice reform, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Jamel Holley, Patricia Egan Jones and Benjie Wimberly aiming to end the school-to-prison pipeline, assist individuals in recovery and rehabilitation, reduce the number of repeat offenders and provide savings was signed into law Monday.
“The majority of the more than 10,000 inmates who are released from prison each year in New Jersey will be rearrested, and two in five will return to prison. In addition to the direct impact this has on their own lives, it also affects their families, their communities and the entire state,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It’s critical that we stop this woeful pattern by making sure that these men and women have the education, job skills and other resources they need in order to be productive members of society after leaving prison.”
The law (formerly bill A-1986) – called the “Earn Your Way Out Act” – enacts various corrections and parole reforms, including requiring the Department of Corrections (DOC) to develop a reentry plan for each inmate, establishing administrative parole release for certain inmates, providing for parole compliance credits, creating an inmate disciplinary database and mandating an impact study of the law’s reforms by an institution of higher education’s criminal justice program.
“For far too long, we have allowed the school-to-prison pipeline to remain intact,” said Holley (D-Union). “Now, we have a law that will finally allow us to break this pipeline, and help make incarcerated New Jerseyans truly gain a second chance.”
Under the law, the DOC Commissioner will be required to establish a Division of Reentry and Rehabilitative Services to coordinate reentry preparation and other rehabilitative services within all State correctional facilities, and to act as a liaison to the State Parole Board. Staff within the division will be responsible for developing and implementing an individualized, comprehensive reentry plan designed to prepare each inmate for successful integration as a productive, law-abiding citizen upon release.
The law also enables all eligible parolees to earn compliance credits, which will be used to reduce their time by five days for each month they remain in compliance with the conditions of parole and does not commit a serious or persistent infraction.
“The Earn Your Way Out Act is supportive of second chances,” said Patricia Egan Jones (D-Camden). “Preparing a pathway to reentry and providing access to needed resources is the only way to help these individuals during their next steps in life.”
“This is exactly where our emphasis should be when it comes to reforming the system, reducing crime and shutting the revolving door on prisons,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Comprehensive and effective rehabilitation programs will restore hope, dignity, and provide former inmates the second chance they deserve to do better once released. There’s a lot more to be done; however, this is a critical step to stabilizing families, reforming a broken system that has burdened our state and society with unquantifiable costs.”
Additionally, the law provides that inmates may be awarded commutation credits following arrest for time served in a county jail. Currently, commutation credits are not available to inmates who serve time in a county jail prior to serving time in a State correctional system.
The law also creates a centralized database of information contained in each disciplinary report prepared by a corrections officer in response to an inmate committing a prohibited act.
Any cost savings realized will go to the Office of Victim Services for the operating costs of the Focus on the Victim Program, as well as other services to facilitate successful recovery.
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Measure to Provide Over a Third of All NJ Students Access to Free Meals
Expanding access to free meals for families struggling to afford the cost of reduced-price school meals, a measure requiring the State to cover the cost of reduced price breakfast and lunch for eligible public school students was given final legislative approval after passage in both the full Assembly 71-0-2 and Senate 35-0 on Monday.
The bill (A-5855) is sponsored by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin along with Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt and Jamel Holley.
“It’s critically important that children have access to regular and nutritious meals while at school, but the sad fact is that for many families the financial burden is too great,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “Children who eat breakfast and lunch show improved concentration, greater alertness, stronger comprehension, better memory and advanced learning skills. Under this legislation, all eligible children will be afforded the opportunity to a free healthy and nutritious breakfast and lunch.”
Right now, students from households living under 130% of the federal poverty line, recognized as an annual income of less than $33,475 for a family of four, qualify for free school meals. In four person households where income is between $33,475 and $47,638, families only have access to reduced price meals.
This legislation would appropriate $4.5 million enabling the State to pay the difference between federal allocations for reduced priced breakfasts and lunches and the total cost of these meal programs.
In doing so, the bill expands access to school meals at no cost to roughly 518,910 students. And, according to 2017-2018 enrollment data from the New Jersey Department of Education, that equates to just over one third of all New Jersey school children becoming eligible for free meals under this measure.
“Food insecurity is an issue facing families in too many communities throughout our state,” said Lampitt (D-Camden, Burlington). “This bill would have a tremendous impact in expanding access to school meals ensuring children aren’t going hungry during the school day and empowering them to be more engaged learners. It also lifts the burden on school districts facing meal debts, who could be allocating their financial resources to provide student services in other critical areas.”
Under the legislation, the Department of Agriculture would be directed to adopt regulations for the scheduling and management of reimbursements to school districts.
“One in every eight children in New Jersey don’t know where their next meal is coming from,” said Holley (D-Union). “That fact is startling. By expanding access to free meals in school, we can lessen the burden of hunger and powerfully alter a child’s potential for success allowing them to lead healthy, happy lives.”
The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk.
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To protect the safety of lucky New Jerseyans who win the lottery, Assembly Democrats John Burzichelli, Jamel Holley and Clinton Calabrese sponsored legislation allowing for winners of the State Lottery to remain anonymous. The bill received final legislative approval 74-1 in the full Assembly on Monday.
“While winning the lottery is a dream come true for those lucky individuals who are able to call themselves winners, they are sometimes harassed, both verbally and physically, by family members, friends, acquaintances and others as a result of their newfound wealth and fame,” said Burzichelli (D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem). “In some cases, lottery prizes have resulted in winners being robbed and even killed, such as in places like Chicago, Georgia and West Virginia, to name a few. If a lottery winner wishes to remain anonymous, they should have the right to not have their information publicly distributed.”
The bill (A-3616) directs the State Lottery Commission to allow lottery winners in New Jersey to remain anonymous indefinitely.
“With lottery winners being very susceptible targets of crime, from blackmail to kidnapping or worse, it only makes sense to enact legislation that challenges the status quo to better safeguard their anonymity,” said Holley (D-Union). “New Jersey lottery winners should be able to enjoy their winnings without the bombardment of press and other prying eyes that naturally follow when their identity is revealed.”
Current regulations provide that the State Lottery may use names, addresses, prize amount and photographs of winners, but the addresses listed do not include a street or house number. Additionally, under current law, a winner’s name, town and country are available through a formal request under the Open Public Records Act (OPRA).
This bill would also provide an exemption from such OPRA disclosure.
“We’re living in an age where virtually anything is searchable on the internet,” said Calabrese (D-Bergen, Passaic). “With this mass proliferation of information comes an extreme vulnerability for personal information to be out there and readily available for anyone to see. Making sure lottery winners can remain anonymous is fundamentally necessary to protect New Jersey residents and their privacy.”
There is precedent for a bill such as this one, with states like Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas providing at least some anonymity for lottery winners, while winners in Colorado, Connecticut and Vermont can bypass having their names released by claiming winnings through a trust or a limited liability company.
The bill was approved 39-0 in the Senate on January 9, 2020 and now heads to the Governor’s desk.
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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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Many new drivers are unaware of their rights and proper protocol when being pulled over by a police officer. To help educate residents to that extent, a bill encouraged by national dialogue on incidents occurring during routine law enforcement stops advanced in the Assembly Thursday.
“Teaching drivers their rights as wells as how to safely interact with police during a stop must be a part of the driver curriculum. Surprisingly, the New Jersey Driver’s Manual currently does not include any language referencing what to do if stopped for a traffic violation,” said Karabinchak (D-Middlesex). “We are a diverse state comprised of many cultural backgrounds. Many new drivers may have their own perceptions of the police and do not know what a police stop entails. This bill aims to correct that discrepancy with a visual aid and tutorial of a standard police stop. An equally prepared driver and officer will make for more ‘safe stops’.”
The legislation — sponsored by Assembly Democrats Robert Karabinchak and Jamel Holley—would require a potential driver to watch a video, created by the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) and the Attorney General, before they take a written examination for a validated permit. The video will explain the rights and responsibilities of a driver stopped by a law enforcement officer.
“Over the years, police-involved shootings of unarmed people of color has made national news time and time again. These particular incidents have fueled conversations on how we can better prepare our communities for interactions with police,” said Holley (D-Union). “The one way we can, in conjunction with the policies many police departments have already put into place, is to help drivers understand their rights and what to expect as the driver of the vehicle if they are ever pulled over. At the end of the day, we want to make sure the members of our community and our police officers get home safely.”
The bill also requires the MVC to expand the written examination to include a question, developed in conjunction with the Attorney General, testing the applicant’s knowledge of the rights and responsibilities of a driver stopped by a law enforcement officer.
The measure approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee and will now be considered to be posted for a floor vote.
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Asserting the right to vote as both fundamental and critical to democracy, a bill restoring voting rights to individuals on parole or probation was signed into law by the Governor on Wednesday. The legislation is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Shavonda Sumter, Cleopatra Tucker, Jamel Holley and Britnee Timberlake.
The law removes the prohibition on voting by persons on parole and/or probation convicted for an indictable offense under any federal or state laws, which in New Jersey are offenses for crimes of the first through fourth degree.
“New Jersey will now lead the nation as a model of racial justice and inclusive democracy,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “The privilege to participate in the election process is a constitutional right afforded every American regardless of background, race or status. Every person of voting age should have the ability to cast their ballot without interference and without judgement of their personal history.”
States across the country have sought to ease voting restrictions on people with criminal convictions in recent decades. Under this law, New Jersey will provide for automatic restoration of voting rights upon release, where it previously provided for automatic restoration only after the completion of a sentence including periods of parole and probation.
“Voting is an opportunity for all residents to have their say in who leads their communities and state,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “No one population should be disproportionately denied their right to vote. These are outdated laws that have no place in a modern democracy.”
Under Article II, Section I, paragraph 7, the New Jersey Constitution authorizes the Legislature to disqualify certain persons from the right to vote in primary, municipal, special or general elections. This law eliminates the voting disqualification levied against the roughly 79,000 people on either probation and/or parole in New Jersey.
“Withholding the right to vote from people who have served their time while incarcerated, and who have paid their dues, sends the wrong message,” said Holley (D-Union). “We need to successfully reintegrate individuals into their respective communities and that requires reinstating rights to participate in the political process as soon as they step foot outside of the horrors of the incarcerated walls.”
“The story of mass incarceration and disproportionate disenfranchisement in America can no longer be the narrative for New Jersey,” said Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic). “People with criminal records face enough trials post-incarceration in searching for employment, paying down debt and reconnecting with their families. Ending the prohibition on voting for probationers and parolees gives them a chance to move forward, to have their voices heard.”
The law, accordingly, also repeals statutory provisions that permit a person to challenge a voter’s right to vote in an election on grounds that the voter is disenfranchised due to a criminal conviction (N.J.S.A.19:15-19); require the commissioner of registration in each county to compare voter registration records with criminal conviction records to prevent disenfranchised persons from voting and registering to vote (N.J.S.A.19:13-17): and criminalize the act of voting while disenfranchised (N.J.S.A.19:34-4).
The law will take effect 90 days from its enactment.