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Jasey, Green, Holley & Muoio Bill to Ensure Continuation of Foreclosure Mediation Program to Combat NJ’s Ongoing Foreclosure Crisis Approved by Assembly Panel

New Jersey had highest rate of foreclosures in the nation in 2015

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, Jerry Green, Jamel Holley and Elizabeth Muoio to codify the state’s Foreclosure Mediation Program into law to help reduce the staggering number of foreclosures in the state and help homeowners keep their homes was released Thursday by the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee.

The bill (A-1029) would codify the Foreclosure Mediation Program into state law. The program was established in 2009 by the New Jersey Judiciary in response to an alarming increase in residential foreclosures. New Jersey had the highest rate of foreclosures in the nation in 2015.

“Foreclosures not only affect homeowners, but neighborhoods and the state as a whole,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “Last year we led the country in foreclosures. The mediation services provided by this program can help homeowners avoid foreclosure and reinvigorate our housing market by reducing our dismal foreclosure rates. It is essential that we keep these services going.”

“Foreclosures wreak havoc on families and communities,” said Green (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “This bill would help ensure that the mediation services provided under the program continue to be available to homeowners who are at risk of losing their homes.”

“No homeowner wants to lose their home,” said Holley (D-Union). “Making this program a permanent fixture would ensure that homeowners facing foreclosure will always have an alternative. It would also help chip away at the foreclosure crisis that has loomed over the state for too long.”

“The city of Trenton had the second-highest metro foreclosure rate in the country last year, which makes any attempt at progress even more challenging,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This bill ensures that the program will endure so that homeowners can take advantage of these mediation services, which will not only help homeowners but the municipalities where they live.”

The bill would require that, at the time the homeowner-borrower receives a notice of intention to foreclose, pursuant to section 4 of P.L.1995, c.244 (C.2A:50-56), a homeowner-borrower must receive written notice of the option to participate in the Foreclosure Mediation Program. Upon the filing of a mortgage foreclosure complaint against an eligible property, the homeowner-borrower must again receive written notice of the option to participate in the Foreclosure Mediation Program. The written notice must be available in both English and Spanish.

The bill would authorize eligible homeowners to submit a mediation request, thereby initiating the process of scheduling a mediation session with their lender. Along with the mediation request, the homeowner may have to submit additional information that may be necessary for creating a loan modification, or other agreement, but will not have to pay any fees to participate in the program.

The bill would also create a dedicated, non-lapsing fund within the General Fund to be known as the “Foreclosure Mediation Fund.” The fund would be comprised of receipts equaling $50 from every foreclosure complaint filing fee, along with all fines imposed on lenders for noncompliance with obligations of the mediation program under the bill. Pursuant to R.1:43 of the Rules of Court, foreclosure complaint filing fees have recently increased from $200 to $250. Instead of establishing those fees at $250, this bill would allow the judicial branch to maintain the role of determining foreclosure complaint filing fee levels, so long as $50 of each fee is contributed to the fund.

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Assembly Democratic Bill to Protect NJ Public Safety Officers Clears Committee

Legislation Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson, Raj Mukherji, Elizabeth Muoio, Jamel Holley, Shavonda Sumter, Joann Downey, Pamela Lampitt, Sheila Oliver and Joe Danielsen sponsored to support workers who are attacked while supervising inmates or detainees recently was advanced by an Assembly committee.

Under current law, a corrections officer or juvenile detention officer who is seriously injured after a prison riot or inmate attack and cannot work does not receive any salary while waiting for workers’ compensation to take effect, which can take several months.

A recent rise in attacks on corrections officers highlights the need to address this gap in state statute, Benson noted.

“These officers assume a significant deal of risk every day on the job, yet they’re excluded from provisions that make compensation available to other public safety officers,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This legislation is about taking action to eliminate that inconsistency so that people who put their lives on the line aren’t left helpless in the event of an attack.”

The bill (A-3422) would establish a compensation program that would allow state corrections officers, juvenile corrections officers, juvenile detention officers, parole officers and probation officers who suffer bodily injury as the result of an attack by inmates, detainees or other persons under their supervision to continue to receive full wages until they begin receiving workers’ compensation payments.

In addition to workers’ compensation, the injured employee also would receive regular supplemental payments from his or her employer in an amount that, when combined with workers’ compensation, equals his or her net wage at the time of the injury.

“Our dedicated public safety officers are serving courageously in hostile situations that can become violent at a moment’s notice, such as inmate fights or riots,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “These heroes in uniform shouldn’t have to worry that an unanticipated brutal attack in the line of duty could harm their families financially while recovering from their service-related injuries.”

“As it is, a public safety officer who gets attacked on the job essentially is punished for something he or she didn’t do,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “By ensuring that these officers have financial stability after an attack, we can make it clear that New Jersey supports these vital professions and remove a deterrent to entering or staying in that line of work.”

“Working in a correctional institution is not an easy job by any means. People who are in potentially dangerous situations every day should be able to rest assured that they’ll be taken care of if they’re injured on the job,” said Holley (D-Union). “This is a common-sense measure to make sure people working in New Jersey’s prisons and juvenile detention facilities have some peace of mind.”

“The injuries that corrections officers, parole officers and probation officers sustain when they’re assaulted while at work can be devastating, both physically and financially,” said Sumter (D-Bergen/Passaic). “When they’re trying to rest and recover from a traumatizing episode, these men and women shouldn’t also have to be concerned about how to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table.”

“Work-related injuries, especially those related to targeted acts of violence, should not be grounds for a reduction in pay,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “This legislation establishes fairness for the public safety officers who work hard every day in correctional facilities.”

“Public safety officers take on the stressful job of diffusing aggressive situations on a regular basis, and if they get hurt in the process, their families suffer,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Bridging the gap between an officer’s regular salary and workers’ compensation can help that officer focus on healing in the aftermath of an attack.”

“When a public safety officer’s worst fear – being attacked on the job – is realized, the stress and anxiety of that shouldn’t be compounded by an accompanying pay cut,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “The very least New Jersey can do for these officers is ensure that their ability to meet their financial obligations isn’t limited if they become the victim of a violent crime in the workplace.”

“People whose jobs require them to be in harm’s way need to know that they’ll be taken care of if they’re assaulted while at work,” said Danielsen (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “The work these men and women do is essential to maintaining order and public safety in our state, and it’s important that they know there’s a support system available to them.”

State Human Services police officers, conservation officers and park police officers who suffer bodily injury as the result of an assault while engaged in the arrest or transportation of a suspect or person in their custody and civilian employees who work directly with inmates or detainees and suffer bodily injury due to an attack while performing their official duties also would be eligible for the compensation program.

The measure was released Monday by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee, of which Benson is chair and Danielsen is vice-chair.

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Muoio, Spencer, Sumter, Holley, Oliver, McKnight & Tucker Bill to Provide Assistance Benefits to Those Who Complete Drug Treatment Clears Assembly

Bill Would Provide Financial Assistance, Job Training & Education through Work First NJ

The full Assembly gave final legislative approval on Thursday of legislation sponsored by Assemblywoman Liz Muoio, L. Grace Spencer, Shavonda Sumter, Jamel Holley, Sheila Oliver, Angela McKnight and Cleopatra Tucker that would revise the requirements for eligibility restrictions for receiving general assistance benefits under the Work First New Jersey program for individuals who have been convicted of an offense involving the use, possession, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. The bill was approved 47-23-2.

The bill (A-889) is part of efforts by Assembly Democrats to lift people out of poverty and rebuild New Jersey’s middle-class.

“It can be tremendously hard to turn one’s life around after a drug conviction because of all the doors that close in their face due to legal constraints, especially for those who don’t have family or friends to rely on for assistance,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “This change is designed to help end the cycle of addiction and recidivism by giving people the means to turn their life around. Financial assistance, job training, and education – all of these things provide hope and a chance at a new start.”

The sponsors noted this is the only type of federal offense that bars individuals who are convicted from being eligible for these benefits.

“Residents who are making an effort to turn their lives around deserve a hand in helping them achieve their goals,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “These residents have experienced their share of setbacks, roadblocks and government red tape. Now, if we are to close the revolving door into our jails and courts, we have to acknowledge those who are working hard to get their lives back on track.”

WorkFirst NJ, the state’s welfare reform program, emphasizes work as the first step toward building a new life and a brighter future. Through cash assistance, job training, education, work activities and many other support services, the program aims to help people get off welfare, secure employment and become self-sufficient.

“A second chance is what this legislation will provide for residents who need one,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “We encourage people to get and keep their lives on track but stifle their progress by limiting how much assistance they can receive. It’s counterproductive for individuals working hard to reclaim their futures.”

“This legislation is about opportunity and creating more of it for residents who have made an effort to put the mistakes of the past behind them,” said Holley (D-Union). “It will help residents take a necessary step toward achieving their goals.”

“Everyone deserves an opportunity to turn their lives around,” said Oliver (D-Essex, Passaic). “By removing the ban on general assistance eligibility, we empower residents to build a new future for themselves and their families.”

“Current state law excludes residents with a history of certain offenses from access to the programs that are meant to help them get back on their feet,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Lifting the ban is the right step to take for the people of New Jersey who truly need a second chance in life.”

“We want to do more to ensure residents every opportunity to take care of their families and become independent members of society,” said Tucker (D-Essex). “Removing the ban and updating current law to help residents get the assistance needed to keep their lives on track.”

Currently, anyone convicted of offenses involving the use, possession, or distribution of a controlled dangerous substance is ineligible for general assistance benefits with the exception of someone who may be eligible for benefits if they enroll in or completes a licensed residential drug treatment program. For those enrolled in a treatment program, this exception is contingent on continued participation in the program and periodic drug screenings demonstrating they have not used any controlled dangerous substance. There is currently no exception to the general assistance eligibility restriction for persons convicted of offenses involving distribution of a controlled dangerous substance.

The bill removes the lifetime ban on eligibility for general assistance benefits for individuals who have been convicted of offenses involving distribution of a controlled dangerous substance. These individuals would be subject to the same requirements for drug treatment as individuals with convictions related to drug possessions or use.

Also under the bill, an individual who has a past drug conviction may receive general assistance benefits without enrolling in or completing a drug treatment program if either: (1) an appropriate treatment program is not available; or (2) the person is excused from enrolling in a treatment program for good cause pursuant to regulation.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Appropriations Committee on April 4. The Assembly Human Services Committee approved the legislation on January 27. It will now go to the Governor.

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DeAngelo, Pinkin, Diegnan, Coughlin, Holley, McKnight & Schaer Legislative Package to Help Fund Security Improvements in NJ Schools Clears Assembly

A three-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Nancy Pinkin, Patrick Diegnan, Craig Coughlin, Jamel Holley, Angela McKnight and Gary Schaer to provide schools with the financial resources needed to fund security enhancements gained approval from the Assembly on Thursday.

“The thought of a violent attack at an elementary school might have seemed unimaginable before, but it is a harsh reality of the world we live in today,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Schools have their work cut out for them having to meet demands with limited resources. Creating a safe environment for our children to learn is essential. Providing schools with the resources needed to enhance security measures and make schools safer is an investment worth making.”

The first bill (A-209), sponsored by DeAngelo and Pinkin, would exclude certain increases in school security expenditures from the tax levy cap applicable to school districts. Under current law, school districts may increase their tax levies, with certain exceptions, by no more than two percent relative to the prior budget year. The bill provides that any annual increase in expenditures on school security costs in excess of two percent incurred by a district would be excluded from the limit.

“While fiscal responsibility certainly is important, there’s far too much at stake for schools to make decisions about students’ safety based on cost and not quality,” said Pinkin (D-Middlesex). “This legislation will give school districts the authority to weigh all their options and decide what is best for the children they serve.”

The measure was approved 51-16-6.

The second bill (A-2158), sponsored by Diegnan, Coughlin, Holley and McKnight, would provide that a school district may use its emergency reserve fund to finance school security improvements, including improvements to school facilities. Under current law, a district may only withdraw money from the emergency reserve fund to pay the cost of unanticipated general fund current expense costs.

“Schools today have to contend with threats that in the past were unthinkable,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “If we expect schools to educate our children and keep them safe, then we have to give them the resources to do it.”

The bill also would allow proceeds from bonds issued by the Economic Development Authority to finance the state’s school construction program to be used to fund school facilities projects related to improving school security.

“We cannot afford to put school safety on the back burner,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “This can help schools fund security improvements to ensure a safe learning environment for students. I don’t know a greater emergency need than keeping our children safe.”

“Safety is an integral element of any positive learning environment. Even the very best teachers and textbooks cannot compensate for an unsafe building,” said Holley (D-Union). “This bill will put more resources at the disposal of school districts so that they can provide all students with a safe place to learn.”

“When it comes to the safety of New Jersey’s children, school districts should be able to examine their needs, exercise their judgement and use their funds in the manner that will best benefit students, said McKnight (D-Hudson).

The measure was approved unanimously.

The last bill (A-2689), sponsored by Schaer and called the “Secure Schools for All Children Act,” would establish a state aid program for the provision of security services, equipment or technology to help ensure a safe and secure school environment for students in nonpublic schools.

“All students deserve to be safe regardless of where they go to school,” said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). “The frequency of violent attacks in our schools has been a sobering wake-up call. We cannot predict when the next one will happen, but we can be proactive and give these schools the tools they need so they are better equipped to respond to a threat against students and staff.”

Under the provisions of the bill, the superintendent of schools of each school district where a nonpublic school is located would confer annually with the chief school administrator of the nonpublic school in order to agree upon the security services, equipment, or technology that will be provided to the students of the nonpublic school within the limits of available funds. If the two administrators are unable to agree on the security services, equipment, or technology, then the executive county superintendent would be tasked with making the final determination.

Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, the maximum amount or state support limit that may be appropriated for the purposes of the bill is $144.42 per nonpublic school student. This amount reflects the average per pupil amount that is provided to public schools for school security. The amount will be increased each school year by the consumer price index. Each year the school district will forward to the Commissioner of Education an estimate of the cost of providing, during the next school year, the security services, equipment, or technology required pursuant to the bill and the number of students attending the nonpublic school located within the district as of the last school day of October of the current school year. The commissioner will provide state aid to the district in an amount equal to the number of nonpublic school students multiplied by the state support limit.

The State Board of Education would be required to promulgate rules to effectuate the bill’s provisions in a manner that comports with the provisions of the state and federal Constitutions. The rules would have to include a list of allowable expenditures for the security services, equipment, and technology to help ensure a safe and secure school environment for nonpublic school students.

The measure was approved unanimously.

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Assembly Democratic Bill Package to Enhance Security & Safety Measures in NJ’s Schools Approved by General Assembly

(TRENTON) – A three-bill legislative package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick Diegnan, Jamel Holley, Mila Jasey, Angela McKnight and Annette Quijano to enhance security in New Jersey’s schools and better protect students and teachers from a wide range of potential threats was approved Thursday by the General Assembly.

“From bullying to Internet predators to threats of gun violence, there are many dangers that schools must be prepared to deal with and shield students from,” said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). “Enhancing security measures can better prepare schools to respond to situations that threaten the physical safety and emotional well-being of students, so they can fully focus on their education.”

“We’ve learned some hard lessons over the years about the dangers facing our schools and our students,” said Holley (D-Union). “It is critical that we educate school staff about the best safety practices, and keep security and safety measures at the forefront when building new schools and renovating existing ones. Investing in the safety of our students and school staff is a must.”

“The prevalence of school shootings in this country has made it abundantly clear that schools need to be prepared to respond to safety threats that were unimaginable in the past,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “We owe it to students and the staff charged with their safety to give them the resources needed to protect themselves if they are ever faced with a life-threatening emergency.”

“When a school is attacked, people will often ask how the perpetrator was able to get in. This is a valid question and one of many that should be considered when building new schools or renovating existing ones,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Making safety an integral part of a construction or renovation project can help better protect schools from indiscriminate attacks.”

“This bill is important because it stresses the importance of preparedness and training for instances when the difference of acting immediately can save lives,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Requiring law enforcement, emergency responders, and all school employees to train together annually ensures that wherever and whenever an emergency situation occurs, we have provided everybody there with the tools and training they need to protect our children. This is common-sense legislation that I’m proud to support.”

The first bill (A-3347), sponsored by Diegnan, Holley, Jasey and McKnight, would create the New Jersey School Safety Specialist Academy in the Department of Education to serve as a central office for best practices, training standards, and compliance oversight in all matters related to school safety and security, including prevention and intervention efforts, and emergency preparedness planning.

The academy would provide free ongoing professional development on national and state best practices, as well as the most current resources on school safety and security; assume a lead role in setting the vision for school safety and security in the state; and provide a coordinated and interdisciplinary approach to providing technical assistance and guidance to schools in the state.

Under the bill, the academy would have to develop and implement a School Safety Specialist Certification Program. The program would offer free training to newly-appointed school safety specialists in the areas of bullying, hazing, truancy, Internet safety, emergency planning, emergency drills, drugs, weapons, gangs and school policing, and any other areas deemed necessary. The academy would also offer annual training sessions for certified school safety specialists.

The bill would also direct a school superintendent to designate a school safety specialist for the school district. The school safety specialist must complete the certification program developed by the academy. The school safety specialist would be responsible for the supervision and oversight of all school safety and security personnel, policies, and procedures in the school district; ensure that these policies and procedures are in compliance with state law and regulations; and provide the necessary training and resources to school district staff in matters relating to school safety and security. The school safety specialist would also serve as the school district liaison with local law enforcement and national, state, and community agencies and organizations in matters of school safety and security.

The second bill (A-3348) would implement safety and security recommendations from the 2015 New Jersey School Security Task Force report for new school construction projects and existing buildings. The task force determined that “school renovations and new construction must strike a balance between providing a welcoming educational environment and a safe environment in which students can learn and teachers can teach. Well-reasoned school design will encourage proper security measures to be employed by school districts and save the cost of retrofitting buildings.”

By enacting these task force recommendations, the bill seeks to strike that balance.

The bill is also sponsored by Diegnan, Holley, Jasey and McKnight,

Under the bill, the following items, among others, should be considered in the architectural design for the construction of new school buildings: marked school entrances with a uniform numbering system, keyless locking mechanisms, access control systems which allow for remote locking and unlocking, sufficient space for evacuation in the event of an emergency, and areas in the school building intended for public use separated and secure from all other areas.

When it comes to new construction projects and existing school buildings, in addition to employing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles, the bill would require that design plans include items such as a requirement that school security personnel be in uniform, limiting the number of doors for school staff access, having exterior doors remain locked, creating secure vestibules at the school’s main entrance, and using surveillance cameras as a target-hardening tool.

The last bill (A-3349) would revise current law on school security drills. Under the bill, all employees in school districts and nonpublic schools would be provided with annual training on school safety and security. Under current law such training is only provided once to certificated staff members. The bill would also provide that the training be conducted collaboratively by the district or nonpublic school and emergency responders in order to identify weaknesses in school safety and security procedures and to increase the effectiveness of emergency responders. It would also require that a law enforcement officer be present for at least one school security drill in each school year to make recommendations on any improvements or changes to drill procedures deemed necessary.

The bill is sponsored by Diegnan, Holley, Jasey, McKnight and Quijano.

The bills (A-3347), (A-3348) and (A-3349) were approved 68-0-5, 73-0-0 and 72-0-0 respectively, and now head to the Senate for further consideration.

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Wimberly, Oliver & Holley Bill to Encourage Construction of Rental Housing for Veterans Released by Assembly Panel

Legislation Assembly Democrats Benjie Wimberly, Sheila Oliver and Jamel Holley sponsored to promote the construction of more rental housing for veterans cleared an Assembly panel on Monday.

The bill (A-2212) would establish a tax credit for New Jersey housing developers who construct homes for New Jersey veterans. The bill would permit developers to receive a non-refundable credit against New Jersey business taxes.

“Repeated and extended deployments in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have made it especially difficult for military personnel to find housing suited to their unique situations,” said Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen). “Veterans have served our country in times of war and peace, sharing a common belief in a cause higher than self. We must help them with this basic need.”

“No individual who put his or her life on the line for this country should be without a home,” said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). “This legislation will expand stable housing options and advance our state’s effort to end veteran homelessness.”

“New Jersey has an obligation to ensure that every veteran in our state has a roof over his or her head,” said Holley (D-Union). “Just as veterans made a commitment to fight for us, we must stand by our commitment to fight tor them.”

Under the legislation, the credit amount would be calculated based on the developer’s expenditures to create rental housing restricted to occupancy by veterans.

The bill provides that expenditures for a wide array of construction and real estate development activities are “allowable costs” that qualify for a credit. The credit amount may be up to 10 percent of the developer’s allowable costs for developing veterans’ housing.

To receive a credit, the developer must submit both a project plan and an application to the Department of Community Affairs. The DCA then would issue a certificate of eligibility for the developer to file with the developer’s tax return to obtain the credit.

The sponsors noted that more than 630,000 veterans live in New Jersey, and more than 500,000 of these personnel are civilian veterans.

The bill was released by the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

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Vainieri Huttle, Singleton, Holley, Mosquera, Benson, Tucker & Wimberly Bill to Help Guard Child Protection Caseworkers Gains Assembly Panel Approval

Bill Sparked by Attacks that Left Several Seriously Injured is Re-introduced after Christie Veto Continues to Leave Caseworkers Vulnerable

(TRENTON) — An Assembly panel on Monday advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Troy Singleton, Jamel Holley, Gabriela Mosquera, Daniel R. Benson, Cleopatra Tucker and Benjie Wimberly to help safeguard child protection workers from the kind of attacks over the past year that left one seriously injured and sent two others to the hospital.

The bill (A-2322), known as “Leah’s Law,” is named in honor of the Division of Child Protection and Permanency caseworker who was nearly stabbed to death while performing her duties for the division in Camden in November 2014.

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Christie last month but was reintroduced by Vainieri Huttle in the new legislative session given the persistent need that still exists to protect child caseworkers.

“It’s clear that the need still exists for us to do a better job protecting these caseworkers. They are going out into the field unprotected to handle emotional and often tenuous situations,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “The possibility for confrontation always looms, which makes it all the more confusing as to why the administration diverted Human Services police officers in the first place and even more perplexing that the governor vetoed this legislation last time around. After hearing Leah’s testimony at our last hearing it’s unfathomable that we would continue to send these workers out unprotected.”

“This is an issue of critical concern because it affects both the caseworkers and the children they’re sent to protect. When we neglect their security, we’re paying the price twofold,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Despite my questioning earlier this year, I still don’t understand the decision that led to the security lapse or why we chose to privatize our security needs, instead of utilizing the human services police we have who are trained to handle these types of situations.”

“These employees will continue to be at risk if we allow these types of security lapses to remain in place,” said Holley (D-Union). “We need to recruit and retain qualified, committed caseworkers. How can we do that if they don’t feel safe? This bill will help remedy that.”

“The severity of the attacks we’ve witnessed over the last year warrant an overhaul of our policies and tactical procedures,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester).

“This legislation will help ensure the safety of these workers while they’re out there trying to protect the welfare of some of our most vulnerable children,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex).

“We need to do more to protect the safety these employees who are risking their lives to help remove children from grave situations,” said Tucker (D-Essex).

“This bill will help close the gaps that exist today and better position child protection workers to do the important job they are tasked with,” said Wimberly (D-Passaic/Bergen).

The bill would require the Division of Child Protection and Permanency to implement policies and procedures to ensure the safety of every caseworker employed by the division and require Human Services police officers to accompany them into the field when needed.

The policies and procedures would address issues of safety when a caseworker receives a threat of violence from a client, or is presented with a potentially dangerous situation while working in a local office, investigating a report of child abuse or neglect in the field, or making an emergency removal of a child pursuant to current law.

Under the provisions of the bill, in order to ensure the safety of a caseworker in a local office, the division shall require that:

  • A Human Services police officer be assigned to every building where a local office is located to provide security and assistance to the caseworkers assigned to the office;
  • Each local office be equipped with a metal detector or metal detector wands operated by law enforcement officers;
  • A panic button be installed in every meeting room in which a caseworker meets with a client; and
  • At least one meeting or conference room in each local office be equipped with a two-way mirror to allow for the observation of the room by the Human Services police officer.

In order to ensure the safety of a caseworker when investigating a report of child abuse or neglect in the field or when making an emergency removal of a child, the division would require:

  • A caseworker assigned to a home visit to be accompanied by another caseworker if certain conditions delineated in the bill are met;
  • At the request of a caseworker or the caseworker’s supervisor, the Human Services police officer assigned to the caseworker’s local office would accompany and assist the caseworker when making an emergency removal; and
  • The Human Services police officer assigned to a local office would be available to a caseworker within 30 minutes of a request to accompany and assist the caseworker, except that in an emergency situation, the officer would be immediately available.

The provisions of the bill stipulate that when a caseworker, investigating a report of child abuse or neglect in the field or making an emergency removal of a child, is assigned to a home visit and is accompanied by another caseworker, nothing would prohibit the division, at the request of the caseworker or the caseworker’s supervisor, from requiring that a Human Services police officer assigned to the caseworker’s local office accompany or assist the caseworker while on the home visit, if appropriate.

The bill also requires the Division of Child Protection and Permanency to implement a caseworker safety intervention plan. The plan shall, at a minimum:

  • Establish specific procedures to follow when a caseworker is facing or responding to a situation that poses a threat to the safety and well-being of the caseworker, whether in the local office, in the field, or when making an emergency removal of a child;
  • Specify when to request the assistance of the Human Services police officer assigned to the caseworker’s local office and how to initiate such requests; and
  • Be posted in a conspicuous place in the local office and a copy of the plan shall be provided to every staff member assigned to that office.

The bill was advanced by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

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DeAngelo, Giblin, Singleton, Holley & Benson Bill to Support Creation, Expansion of Public Libraries in NJ Clears Assembly Panel

(Trenton) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Thomas Giblin, Troy Singleton, Jamel Holley and Dan Benson to provide grants for the construction, expansion and equipping of public libraries in New Jersey was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

“Some might question the relevance of libraries when technology is so prevalent, but for one, not everyone has access to technology, and secondly, libraries are more than just a place to get books,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “They are gathering places. They are places where people can get college pre and career assistance. They are places where people without access to computers or an internet connection can have free access to both. Given the value of libraries and what they provide our communities, it would be irresponsible not to we invest in their viability.”

The bill (A-222), entitled the “New Jersey Library Construction Bond Act,” would authorize the issuance of $125 million in state general obligation bonds to provide grants for the construction, expansion, and equipping of New Jersey’s public libraries.

The bill would direct the state librarian, in consultation with the president of Thomas Edison State College, to establish eligibility criteria for the receipt of grants. The state librarian, with the approval of the president, would prepare a list of eligible projects.

“Libraries are community centers. They are places where people go for information and to engage with neighbors,” said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic) “In a world that’s becoming more isolated as social media interactions replace face-to-face exchanges, libraries play a vital role in not only making knowledge accessible to all, but preserving social interactions so important to a thoughtful society.”

“Some libraries have been forced to shutter or reduce their hours due to a lack of funding. This is a disservice to residents who rely on their local libraries for a variety of services,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “These grants would allow existing libraries to expand, make improvements and new ones to be built, while creating jobs and putting people to work. It’s a win-win.”

“Libraries have helped to bridge the digital divide by providing patrons with access to computers and the Internet, while continuing to provide a wide range of critical services,” said Holley (D-Union). “However budgetary restrictions continue to threaten their existence. This is one way to give libraries the financial resources they need to thrive and continue to serve their communities.”

“Libraries provide a myriad of services to a wide, diverse audience. On any day, you can find people of all ages browsing the aisles for books, making use of the computers, or gathering for a program or public meeting,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “We have a responsibility to those residents who benefit from their local libraries to ensure that they remain part of their communities.”

Under the bill, for any approved project financed by bond proceeds, the grant award would support 50 percent of the cost of the project, and the appropriate local governing entity in the area served by the public library would support 50 percent of the cost of the project.

The bill would provide that the bond act be submitted to the people for approval at the general election to be held at least 70 days after enactment, and would appropriate $5,000 to the Department of State for expenses in connection with the publication of the public question.

It is the belief of the sponsors that, in addition to increasing the capacity of public libraries to better serve the public, the issuance of $125 million in state general obligation bonds for the construction, expansion, and improvement of public libraries will lead to the creation of numerous construction and trade jobs and will help ensure the economic well-being of New Jersey’s citizens.

The bill was released by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee.

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Singleton & Holley Bill to Encourage N.J. Colleges & Universities to Offer $10,000 Degree Programs Clears General Assembly

Legislation Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton and Jamel Holley sponsored to encourage New Jersey’s colleges and universities to offer baccalaureate degree programs that cost no more than $10,000 in tuition and fees gained approval from the General Assembly on Monday.

The measure (ACR-114) comes after a number of institutions of higher education in other states, including Texas and Florida, have taken measures to make attending college more affordable by developing $10,000 baccalaureate degree programs. The legislation is part of efforts by Assembly Democrats to lift people out of poverty and rebuild New Jersey’s middle-class.

“The cost of attending an institution of higher education continues to increase, and many New Jersey students and their families find it difficult to afford the tuition and fees required for enrollment,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “We’ve worked hard over the last several months to pass higher education reform bills, and this is another piece of that effort. A person’s level of education continues to be one of the most significant factors in determining his economic well-being. With many highly-skilled workers competing for a limited number of job openings, it’s imperative that high school graduates be able to afford to attend college and attain the skills necessary to compete in the 21st century workplace.”

“College tuition has increased at a rate faster than inflation for approximately 30 years, which has resulted in record-high student loan debt,” said Holley (D-Union). “Offering baccalaureate degree programs that cost no more than $10,000 in tuition and fees will greatly increase the ability of New Jersey students to attend an institution of higher education, acquire the training needed to secure good, high-paying jobs, minimize student loan debt and become productive members of their communities.”

The sponsors noted that, at approximately $1.2 trillion, total student loan debt has exceeded the total national credit card debt.

“Higher education needs to be affordable and a gateway to a better future, not decades of financial struggle,” Singleton said.

“If we’re to help our hard-working families, we need to consider every alternative to creating an affordable higher education,” Holley said.

According to a 2011 United States Census Bureau report, a person who graduates from college with a baccalaureate degree will earn, over the course of a lifetime, $2.4 million, which on average is $1 million more than a person with only a high school diploma.

Yet, in its ninth annual report on student loan debt issued in November of 2014 the Institute for College Access and Success found that nearly seven in 10 college seniors who graduated in 2013 left school with an average of $28,400 in student loan debt, an increase of 2 percent over 2012.

Also, according to the Office of the Secretary of Higher Education, for the 2014-15 academic year the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a full-time, in-state, undergraduate student enrolled in a four-year public institution of higher education is $12,894, and the average annual cost of tuition and fees for a full-time undergraduate student enrolled in an independent institution of higher education in New Jersey is $35,084.

The measure was approved unanimously by the Assembly.

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Singleton, Holley & Downey Bill to Help Homeless & Disabled Veterans Procure Affordable Housing Approved by Assembly

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Troy Singleton, Jamel Holley and Joann Downey to establish an affordable housing occupancy preference for homeless and disabled veterans in New Jersey was approved Monday by the General Assembly.

“We have a responsibility to take care of those veterans who face challenges after their military service,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “Transitioning to civilian life can be difficult for many veterans. Ensuring that homeless veterans, veterans who are disabled, and the relatives who care for them, have affordable places to live can help these veterans and their families return to normalcy.”

The bill (A-2199) would establish a veterans’ preference for affordable housing in housing projects that are either operated by a housing authority, financed by a county improvement authority, or are part of a redevelopment project. The bill would task the Commissioner of Community Affairs with adopting rules and regulations to establish the standards for the veteran’s preference.

“Veterans put their lives on the line to serve this country. Many return from service with physical and emotional wounds that make their return to civilian life very difficult,” said Holley (D-Union). “This bill would help ensure that homeless or disabled veterans who have fallen on hard times can have the peace of mind that comes with having a stable and affordable place to live.”

“We have a more obligation take care of those who stepped forward to take care of us,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “Veterans deserve better than a life on the streets. Setting up an affordable housing preference for veterans who are homeless or disabled would help ensure that former service men and women who are struggling financially are able to secure a cost-effective place to live.”

Under the provisions of the bill, preference for these affordable housing units would be given to homeless veterans, disabled veterans, and family members who live with disabled veterans and are their primary caregivers.

Priority would be first given to homeless veterans, then to disabled veterans, and then to family members who are the primary residential caregivers to disabled veterans residing with them.

All applicants for the housing preference would be required to meet the income requirements for admission to the housing project, regardless of the priority status granted under the bill.

The bill was unanimously approved by the Assembly and now awaits further consideration by the Senate.

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