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New Jersey Budget Hearings – Get Your House in Order

For those desiring bills along the lines of much of our model legislation, that period of time on the state legislative calendar dedicated to budgets, budgets and more budgets can become a waiting game.  While good bills on hemp, drones and other issues sit largely ignored in committee, the legislature and governor go back and forth over taxes and spending, each convinced of moral and intellectual supremacy over the other.  Still, a state’s fiscal policy does much to determine its ability to resist the constant encroachment upon our individual rights and reserved state and local powers.  While the New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center chapter does not have the manpower necessary to go through a line by line, item by item breakdown of what belongs or does not belong in our state budget, it would be a mistake to be silent on the issue.

The most important thing our state government can do regarding fiscal policy is to present a budget that is fully paid for without a dime of federal aid.  This may mean a complete revamping of state and local government as we know it in New Jersey, but it also means not being dependent on federal dollars and all of the strings attached.  More financial autonomy helps to protect our political autonomy, leaving us in a better position to enforce the Tenth Amendment.  While we’re on the subject of federal aid to the states, if our legislature and governor want to talk about that, maybe they can apply a little bit of pressure on DC to stop giving our tax dollars away to other states.

New Jersey needs to repudiate all unconstitutional debt.  There may be some whom such a move will upset, mostly those who purchased bonds not backed by the full faith and credit of the State of New Jersey, but according to the limits of our own state constitution, Trenton never should have taken on this debt.  Our state can never hope to enforce the limits of the US Constitution against DC if the legislature and governor cannot be faithful to our their state constitution.

Our state and local governments must strip away, to the greatest extent possible, any and all funding from any activities that assist the federal government in violating our rights.  This should be a no-brainer, as enforcement of even constitutionally delegated federal powers should be mostly up to the federal government.  Our state, county and municipal police and other agencies are not administrative subdivisions of the federal government, but servants of the people of this state.  Their responsibilities are to us, not any outside entity, and last I checked, the District of Columbia is outside of New Jersey.

In the short term, we cannot reasonably expect the governor and legislature to put aside partisan bickering in our budget hearings, or for any compromises to result in any major changes in how our state government operates.  That is where you come in.  You have a voice in this too.  In addition to any specific changes you believe need to be a part of our state budget, our legislators need to know there needs to be shift in our mindset regarding the purpose of government, both inside and outside our state.

New Jersey Senate Joins Push for Marijuana Legalization

On the heels of a bipartisan bill in the Assembly, and as many following the issue have expected, Senator Nicholas Scutari has introduced a bill in the New Jersey Senate that would legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.  Although the text of the bill is not available on the New Jersey Legislature’s site yet, according to Heather Haddon at the Wall Street Journal, S1896 would allow for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for individuals 21 years of age and older.

Unlike the Assembly version of the bill, S1896 provides for the taxation of recreational marijuana at a rate of 7%, with 70% of the revenue going toward transportation projects.  The remainder would go to, according to Ms. Haddon, drug education and women’s health, the latter being an often deliberately vague term.

Senate President Steve Sweeney is “open to debate” on the issue, while Governor Christie has promised to veto any legislation that legalizes marijuana.  In the event of a veto, the bill would need a two thirds majority in both houses to override.

New Jersey May Legalize Marijuana

Following successful efforts in Colorado and Washington to legalize marijuana for non-medicinal purposes, efforts have now made their way to New Jersey.  State Senator Nicholas Scutari stated in January that he was planning to draft legislation to legalize marijuana.  According to The Daily Chronic, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Assembly.

Republican Michael Patrick Carroll and Democrat Reed Gusciora have introduced a bill, A2842, which would allow the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, subject to voter approval.  If the Assembly and Senate were to approve the bill, it would need Governor Christie’s signature before going on the ballot for the voters to make the final decision on the law.  The governor has promised to veto any bill that legalizes or decriminalizes marijuana.  Both houses of the legislature would both need a two thirds vote to override a veto.

While Governor Christie says the federal government still considers marijuana illegal, it should be noted that during the Prohibition era, the federal government was at least honest enough to admit it needed to amend the Constitution to do so with alcohol.  Absent an amendment to the United States Constitution, the federal government has been claiming an authority on this issue it does not possess.  Like many other issues, this is one that is reserved to the state and the people.  Whatever the outcome, it should be the decision of the people of our state.

Napolitano vs Stewart: A New Jersey Perspective

There have been some great minds that have already covered the recent exchange between Judge Andrew Napolitano and Jon Stewart on the Daily Show.  On the overall issue of the legacy of Lincoln, without years of study on the subject, I dare not think I can cover that issue better than or as well as they might.  There was, however, an issue briefly brought up in the debate between these two New Jerseyans that should be discussed in greater detail, namely our state’s involvement in slavery before the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

For those unfamiliar with nullification efforts before the Civil War, one of (if not THE) most noble involved the Personal Liberty Laws, which sought to nullify the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.  The nullification of the Fugitive Slave Act, as well as the names of states utilizing such nullification, are cited in the secession declarations of South Carolina and several other southern states.  Shamefully absent from that list of nullifying northern states is New Jersey.  If the institution of slavery is, as Judge Napolitano and Mr. Stewart both agree, an aberration and perhaps the greatest evil in American history, then New Jerseyans need to know about this ugly mark on our state’s past.  New Jersey not only failed to resist the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 via nullification, but went the opposite route, actively enforcing it. One can see a deeply entrenched precedent in state law making it difficult to promote nullification in our state.

In a conflict that went from simply being about preserving the union at all costs to supposedly being a struggle against slavery, how many died to preserve the same union that was sending escaped slaves in chains back to slave states that did not secede?  According to the book “United States Colored Troops,” by William A. Gladstone, a total of 1,185 black soldiers from New Jersey served in the Civil War.  How many of them died in the name of a union that perpetuated slavery while claiming to fight it, while at the same time representing its most willing accomplice among the northern states?

During the Daily Show debate over Lincoln, Stewart brushed aside Napolitano’s concerns over the atrocities committed against women and children by union soldiers in the Civil War.  Maybe he thought the southern white population had it coming, or perhaps he just thought rape and bank robberies were bad, but less serious than slavery, the former being an unfortunate but necessary stepping stone toward ending the latter.  If his concerns were exclusively about slavery, then a question not asked on the show, to which we may never know the answer is this; how many slaves were among the civilian casualties resulting from union war tactics?  Were they also a necessary stepping stone toward ending slavery?  Was it consistent with just war teaching, on which the Judge attempted to school Mr. Stewart, to pursue tactics that resulted in the unintended deaths of some slaves in the name of liberating them?  Were all options exhausted before embracing full scale war?  Would The Daily Show’s viewer base be willing to entertain such a question regarding a war not fought during the Bush administration?

All the debate over Lincoln and the perceived necessity of the Civil War will not change what happened in the past, but looking well beyond what we are taught in our government approved history books is important to help us make better choices in the future.  To claim a war that still leaves scars on America’s identity was necessary, while simultaneously believing it unnecessary to engage in some serious soul searching about the actions of all sides during the war, is folly.  Hopefully, New Jersey residents will be among those to take an in depth look at our history, not to deify or demonize certain major figures, but with the intent of avoiding the evil and building on the good deeds of those who came before us.

One Assemblyman – Two Hemp Bills

Assemblyman Reed Gusciora has been busy on the hemp issue in the early months of this legislative session.  There have been two bills introduced, and he is the primary sponsor on both.

The first bill, A2719, is a little bit vague due to language in section 1b of the bill:

Notwithstanding any other law, or rule or regulation adopted pursuant thereto, to the contrary, a person may plant, grow, harvest, possess, process, distribute, buy, or sell industrial hemp in the State, provided the person complies with the rules and regulations adopted pursuant to section 2 of this act.

The New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center has requested clarification from Assemblyman Gusciora’s office on the language in this section.  By “any other law,” it is unclear whether they mean simply state or local law or include federal prohibitions on hemp farming.  We are awaiting clarification before taking an official stance on the bill.

The second bill, A2919, is a reintroduction of A2415 /S3110 from last year’s legislative session.  The bill passed the Senate 38-0 (2 not voting) and the Assembly 65-8 (7 not voting), but Governor Christie pocket vetoed it.  The New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center expressed its opinion on the bill last year, and that opinion has not changed.  This bill is not a nullification bill, and we will not support any legislation, no matter how popular, which amounts to asking the federal government for permission.

Contact Assemblyman Gusciora’s office and ask for an explanation of A2719, Section 1b, especially if you are one of his constituents, and share with us if you receive an answer.

This Week’s Happenings

The New Jersey Legislature has a light schedule this week, however, there are a couple of items of interest in committee meetings this Thursday.  One is not specifically a nullification bill, but aims to expand privacy protections for New Jersey residents, so there is a connection to our mission.  The other deals with an act of nullification that has been ongoing since just before Chris Christie began his first term as governor, medical marijuana.

At 10:00 am, the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee will meet.  One of the bills on the agenda, A1396, would enact the Reader Privacy Act.  Under current New Jersey law, library records which contain the names or other personally identifying details regarding the users of libraries are confidential and protected from disclosure except in certain circumstances.  This bill extends similar protections to the readers and purchasers of books and e-books.  The bill defines a “book service” as a service that, as its primary purpose, provides the rental, purchase, borrowing, browsing, or viewing of books.  While it does not claim to render any federal legislation or regulation null and void, it would be a positive step for Trenton to take action on expanding privacy protection simply on a state level.  With other states targeting federal abuses such as the NSA and drone spying, this bill could be looked at as a start in addressing the same issues here.  After all, how a state treats its own people can be an indication of how willing that state is to stand up to the federal government.

At 2:00 pm, the Assembly Regulatory Oversight Committee will meet to hear from invited guests regarding implementation of New Jersey’s “Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act.”  The Act, which became a law in early 2010, has experienced glitches over the past four years in terms of implementation.  Hopefully, the invited guests and committee members will come up with some helpful ideas to improve protections for those covered by the law.

Contact the committee members, especially if they represent your legislative district, and urge their support on these important protections.

Christie Approves Unlimited Drones

Governor Christie, through inaction, has permitted unfettered drone usage by law enforcement and other agencies in New Jersey.  According to his own office’s newsroom, the governor permitted A4073/S2702 from the 2012-2013 legislative session to die after the bill received near unanimous approval from both houses of the legislature.  The legislation would have required a warrant for the use of drones by law enforcement agencies in most cases, and had considerable public support across the political spectrum.

Normally, when a bill passes the legislature, the governor’s office has 45 days to veto it, or it becomes a law.  If the governor vetoes the bill, it goes back to the legislature, where a two-thirds vote can override.  However, if there are fewer than 45 days before the end of the legislative session, and the governor does not sign the bill, a “pocket veto” occurs, in which the bill is considered dead, and cannot be overridden.  The bill must be reintroduced in the new legislative session, which must happen now.  New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center will be reaching out to other organizations across the political spectrum – conservative, liberal, libertarian, centrist, etc. – to publicize this issue as much as possible and pressure our legislators to reintroduce these common sense drone regulations.

Those who live in the original sponsors’ (Daniel R. Benson, Vincent Prieto, Marlene Caride, Annette Quijano, Nicholas J. Sacco, Nicholas P. Scutari) and cosponsors’ (Declan J. O’Scanlon, Jr., Amy H. Handlin, Craig J. Coughlin, Upendra J. Chivukula, Jennifer Beck, Linda R. Greenstein) legislative districts are especially urged to contact their legislators and tell them to keep this issue in the forefront.  New Jerseyans must also express their displeasure to Governor Christie for allowing this opportunity to defend the freedoms of his constituents to pass.  We cannot afford despair in the face of this temporary setback, but must fight with even greater determination.

Medical Marijuana Expansion – Catching Up

Governor Christie has signed legislation expanding access to medical marijuana, particularly for children.  This story is about four months old, but the New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center did not catch it until now.  Still, any report on any Tenther legislation is better late than never.

According to an article from David Jones at Reuters, the “pot for tots” program expands the availability of edible forms of marijuana as treatments for children with certain illnesses.  New Jersey’s original medical marijuana bill, signed into law in Jon Corzine’s final days as governor, contained of at fewer protections than most other state bills, and the New Jersey Tenth Amendment Center, as well as other organizations, encourage any additional protections for patients in our state.

Call Governor Christie – S2702 Passed

The New Jersey State Senate this evening passed S2702 with the warrant requirement by a vote of 34-2.  The bill now goes to Governor Christie’s desk.  Call his office, and politely but firmly tell the governor to sign this important legislation.

On a personal note, while sharing updates on this bill, which appeared dead until December, I tried to spread the word to as many groups as possible.  Republicans, Democrats, Tea Partiers, Occupiers, libertarians (both upper and lower case), conservatives and liberals shared common concern on this issue.  Hopefully this bill receives the governor’s signature, and we can push for any needed improvements in the 2014-5 session.

To contact the governor’s office, call 609-292-6000.

Urgent S2702/A4073 Update – Back to the Senate

Earlier this week, the New Jersey Assembly passed A4073 by a vote of 76-1 (1 not voting).  The Senate version, S2702, did not contain the warrant requirement for drones included in A4073, until now.  The legislative calendar for Monday, January 13 includes a second reading for S2702 to concur with A4073.  If it comes up for a vote and passes, it will go to Governor Christie’s desk with the warrant requirement.

Contact your Senators and Governor Christie today and over the weekend in support of this vital legislation.  We are near the end of the legislative session, and cannot afford to miss this opportunity.

Be sure to include any feedback you receive in the comments, and more importantly, spread the news.