TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey’s Democrat-led Legislature held a whirlwind voting session on Thursday, sending to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk some, but not all, of the bills that fit within his promised liberal agenda.
They include measures that would make voter registration automatic, require employers to offer paid sick leave and reinstate the Affordable Care Act’s health care mandate.
The Assembly and Senate voting sessions are the final chances for the chambers to pass bills until the Assembly meets again in late May. The Senate is set to vote again in June.
As Murphy nears the 100-day mark of his administration, he has an opportunity to bolster the liberal agenda he promised on the campaign trail if he signs many of the bills he has indicated he favors, such as paid sick leave.
But he and lawmakers still have not agreed on several other of his key campaign promises like legalizing marijuana, a $15 minimum wage and plans to raise taxes to finance pension and school funding.
A closer look at what is headed to Murphy’s desk:
Lawmakers approved a measure rejected by Christie that would automatically register residents to vote when they go to the Motor Vehicle Commission. Under the bill, voters who don’t want to register must opt out. The legislation also permits other state agencies that collect resident’s information to participate in automatic registration. Republicans say the bill tries to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Democrats say the measure expands the franchise. Census and state election figures show roughly 96 percent of residents over 18 are registered to vote.
PAID SICK LEAVE
A bill that was years in the making is headed for the governor’s desk. The measure requires that employers allow workers to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. It also limits how much paid sick leave workers can carry forward annually to 40 hours.
The legislation has the support of progressive groups, which have been pushing for the measure for years. Dena Mottola Jaborska, the associate director of New Jersey Citizen Action, said it would be “inhumane to deny workers the right to earn paid time off for illness.”
But business owners worry the legislation could strap already-tight budgets.
“Forcing us to pay for sick leave will create a hardship for us and our employees,” said Donna Stewart, who owns Stewart Family Chiropractic, in a statement from the National Federation of Independent Business. “In order to keep payroll within our budget, we will have no choice but to cut hours, reduce raises, and decrease employee bonuses and regular vacation time.”
The Legislature also approved a measure to reinstate the health care mandate that existed under the Affordable Care Act before the Republican-led Congress repealed it last year. The measure requires every resident to obtain health insurance or pay a fee of $695.
Although it was not a Murphy campaign promise, the Legislature passed salary increases for Cabinet members, judges and top legislative staff.
The issue last came up when lawmakers considered raises along with a change in the law to allow governors to profit from the sale of books. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie was interested in writing a book, lawmakers said at the time. The current measure would cost about $32 million over the next two years.
Democratic state Sen. Nia Gill said the salary increases weren’t merited and that she was voting against the bill because she was standing up for middle class voters.
Judges salaries have not been raised in a decade, and they would get an $8,000 raise under the bill. Cabinet members, who haven’t had raises since 2002, would see their salaries go from $141,000 to $175,000.