By Catherine Carrera and James Nash
From sweetening the pension of a South Jersey political ally to regulating drones, Republican Gov. Chris Christie on Monday signed more than 100 bills of varying consequence into law.
The lame-duck governor also decided not to take action on 50 other bills, a maneuver known as a "pocket veto" that means those measures will have to start the legislative process from scratch under the incoming administration of Democrat Phil Murphy.
About a week ago, in his final State of the State address, Christie admonished Democratic and Republican governors going back 35 years for their record on funding the pension system.
Yet on his last full day in office, Christie signed a bill into law that increases the pension benefits for at least one of his longtime political allies, former Camden Mayor Dana Redd, who starts as CEO of the Rowan University/Rutgers-Camden board of governors on Tuesday. The post provides her with a $275,000 salary.
Christie also signed dozens of bills last week, including bipartisan legislation that promises at least $3 billion in tax credits for Amazon to build its second headquarters, known as HQ2, in Newark. The city has promised an additional $2 billion in tax breaks for the online retail giant.
Here's a quick rundown of the bills Christie signed into law on Monday:
The bill, S-3620/A-5322, allows certain elected officials to re-enroll in a pension system they were kicked out of when they switched offices following the enactment of a 2007 law.
The bill's primary beneficiary appears to be Redd, an ally of Christie and legislative leaders. Her pension was frozen when she was elected to the mayor's office in 2010, after having served on the city council, and she he was forced to enroll in a less generous "defined contribution" system, similar to a 401(k).
Using a drone with a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent or more, the same as the legal limit for driving a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, is now a disorderly offense under a bill, S-3370/A-5205, that Christie signed on Monday.
Using a drone to "knowingly or intentionally" endanger someone's life or property or to "take or assist in taking" wildlife is illegal under the new law. If someone uses a drone to interfere with a first responder or endanger the security of a correctional facility they could face up to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine under this law.
Bump stock ban
Owning or selling bump stocks or "trigger cranks," devices that allow semiautomatic firearms to fire more rapidly, is now a third-degree crime after Christie signed S-3477/A-5200.
Though he moved further to the right on gun control while running for president and pushed to loosen the state's gun laws, Christie expressed interest in banning bump stocks after the devices were used in the Oct. 1 massacre in Las Vegas. The man who used the devices killed at least 58 people attending a concert.
Lawmakers moved to overhaul the state's Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals after reports by the State Commission of Investigation said the organization was being run by "wannabe cops" who purchased expensive policing gear and enforced laws unrelated to animal cruelty.
The state SPCA rebuked the report and said the watchdog agency was "obsessed" with the organization. Supporters of SPCA urged lawmakers to reject the bill.
The bill, S-3558/A-5231, strips power from the state SPCA to enforce laws against animal abuse and transfers it to county prosecutor's offices. The move won't happen overnight, as the law allows for 13 months to transition. Towns with police departments will be required to designate a municipal humane law enforcement officer who would be in charge of enforcing animal cruelty laws.
Christie also signed a bill, S-3604/A-5242, that implements a series of recommendations produced by a substance abuse task force Christie authorized last year.
Changes include requiring emergency room doctors to check the state's Prescription Monitoring Program before prescribing opioids, expanding the types of drugs that trigger a database check and requiring more health care professionals to receive continuing education on opioids.
The use of smokeless tobacco is now prohibited on the grounds of any public school. Christie signed S-293/A-493, a bipartisan measure that its Republican sponsors say will make clear that chewing tobacco and snuff are not safe substitutes for cigarettes even though the products are popular among professional baseball players.
One sponsor, Kevin Rooney, R-Wyckoff, cited statistics that 1 in 7 high school boys uses smokeless tobacco.
Computer science classes
Starting in the 2018-2019 school year, every high school with the exception of county vocational schools will have to offer a course in computer science that includes instruction on programming, web page development, data security and ethics.
The measure that Christie signed, S-2485/A-2873, originally proposed requiring each student to pass a computer science course as a graduation requirement starting in the 2022-2023 school year, but that provision was later removed.
Christie declined to sign 50 bills, including a proposed ban on circus elephants, legislation allowing neighboring high schools to field joint varsity sports teams and a requirement that New Jersey go on record as supporting the Paris climate accord.
New Jersey will not be the first state to ban elephants and other exotic animals from traveling circuses and fairs, after Christie declined to sign "Nosey's Law," a bill backed by animal rights activists and named after a 35-year-old elephant that was subjected to abuse on the circus circuit. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and the Assembly with only two votes against it.
Christie also issued a "pocket veto" of a bill that would have permitted high schools from the same districts to merge sports teams, which was prompted by declining enrollment in some districts that led to the dissolution of some varsity squads. The bill was opposed by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association, although it passed both chambers of the Legislature.
Christie declined to sign a bill that would have required school buildings to be equipped with emergency lights and panic alarms that would have immediately summoned police. State officials estimated that the measure would cost $2.5 million to $12.5 million in startup expenses, plus ongoing maintenance. It was a response to shootings in schools around the country.
The Republican governor also declined to sign legislation that would have done the following:
Obligate the state to shoulder the full cost of retirement health benefits for state troopers who hit the mandatory retirement age of 55 with between 20 and 25 years of service;
Compel New Jersey to join the U.S. Climate Alliance to uphold the Paris climate accord, the multinational agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that President Donald Trump plans to withdraw the United States from;
Require the state attorney general, rather than county prosecutors, to investigate deaths of suspects at the hands of police, and for any resulting trials to take place outside the county where the incident occurred;
Ramp up New Jersey's reliance on solar energy by mandating that 5.3 percent of the state's power come from the sun by 2022, up from the current goal of 4.1 percent by 2028.
(Staff writer Nicholas Pugliese contributed to this report.)
(c)2018 The Record (Hackensack, N.J.)