Where Christie Stands on Pensions, Dogfighting and Drug Addicts

by | August 11, 2015

By Andrew Seidman

Gov. Christie on Monday took action on 40 bills and resolutions, ranging from a law he says will help drug addicts to measures addressing dogfighting, gun rights, and the underfunded pension system for public workers.

Among the 27 bills and resolutions Christie signed into law is a measure that allows the state to issue apprentice hunting licenses to applicants 11 to 15 years old who haven't completed safety training, provided that they are accompanied by someone who is 21 or older and does have a hunting license.

Individuals who receive such an apprentice license would be able to use it twice.

The bill received near-unanimous support in the Legislature. However, Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said his group was concerned about safety.

"The Sierra Club runs more than 200 hikes a year," he said. "We are concerned this is an accident waiting to happen."

On other gun-related matters, Christie, a Republican who is running for president, vetoed a bill concerning firearms purchasers with a history of mental illness.

Under current law, a person previously committed to a mental institution who has since recovered can seek to expunge the record from a national background-check database by petitioning a court.

The bill (S-2360) would require such petitioners to notify state law enforcement officials of their request to wipe the record. Supporters of the bill said the police and other authorities should be consulted on these petitions because they may have knowledge about the petitioner that could help judges make a decision.

The bill passed with unanimous support in both houses of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.

"I cannot endorse a continued path of patchwork proposals and fragmented statutes that add further confusion to an already cumbersome area of law," Christie wrote in his veto message. Instead, the governor asked the Legislature to consider a "comprehensive" set of recommendations he made last year.

One such proposal would ease restrictions on involuntary commitment of the mentally ill.

Among 12 other vetoes, Christie also rejected bills Democrats said would improve the health of the underfunded pension system for public workers. The pension system has a $40 billion unfunded liability.

One measure would have required the state to make quarterly contributions to the pension system, rather than a lump-sum payment at the end of the fiscal year.

Democrats have argued that this schedule change would increase the likelihood that the state makes its full contribution each year.

The governor underfunded the pension system in fiscal years 2014-15 and in June included a $1.3 billion contribution for the 2016 budget, $1.8 billion short of what was recommended by actuaries.

Christie said the end-of-year-payment schedule avoids "unnecessary intra-year borrowing."

"Enacting new laws to compel specific payments on specific dates does nothing at all to repair or reform the fundamentally unsustainable pension and health benefits systems currently in place," Christie wrote Monday.

Christie also vetoed a Democratic bill that would have required the state to make a $300 million "prepayment" to the pension system "immediately upon enactment." Democrats had said the money would come from fiscal 2015 revenues but be regarded as a "prepayment" to the 2016 contribution.

Christie denounced the measure as an attempt to "appropriate a sum of money that doesn't exist, for a fiscal year that has already closed."

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) responded that the payment "would be the smart and prudent move to provide more fiscal stability and generate savings."

"It wouldn't compensate for the governor's failure to make the full, legally required payment, but it would have been a step in the right direction," Sweeney said in a statement.

Legislation that Christie did sign into law will: require four-year public colleges and universities to create substance abuse recovery housing programs; make dogfighting a crime; and designate September as "Gold Star Mothers Appreciation Month."

The governor also signed legislation designed to increase transparency in the distribution of Hurricane Sandy aid.

(c)2015 The Philadelphia Inquirer