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Law and Public Policy Beat

February 1, 2017 | Mary Gallagher

An attempt to pass a law that would require equal pay for women in New Jersey was thwarted on Jan. 23 when it became apparent that sponsors did not have the votes to override Gov. Chris Christie’s veto of the same bill last May.

The effort came three days after the Trump inauguration, two days after millions of women marched against him and the same day that Trump re-instated the Reagan-era global gag rule – the prohibition on U.S. funding for international organizations that provide information about abortion, even if none of the American dollars go to pay for abortions.

The New Jersey legislation, S-992, would be a state version of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama, on Jan. 29, 2009, about a week after he took office.

Lilly Ledbetter was a supervisor at a Goodyear tire plant in Alabama, who complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1998 that she was being paid significantly less than her male counterparts. Her pay had started out as roughly equal but over her nearly 20 years with the company diverged more and more into a stark discrepancy by the time she took action.

She claimed she did not know of the pay discrimination until she received an anonymous note revealing the salaries of three male managers and it was then that she went to the EEOC.

A jury awarded her about $3.3 million in back pay and other compensatory and punitive damages but the verdict was thrown out on appeal on the ground that she was too late because the discriminatory decision to pay her less had occurred years earlier. A divided U.S. Supreme Court upheld that ruling in a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, who is from New Jersey. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and three other justices dissented.

Lilly Ledbetter was left with no remedy for years of gender-based pay discrimination. And the precedent meant that other women would also be blocked from suing no matter how long the discrimination went on and how large the discrepancy, so long as their employers managed to conceal the unequal pay until the statute of limitations expired.

The legislation signed by Obama overturned the Supreme Court decision with regard to the timing of equal pay claims brought under federal law. It resets the time to sue with each discriminatory pay check.

The New Jersey proposal, whose 33 sponsors include Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, applies the same time reset under state law but goes further in allowing recovery of back pay for the entire period of the discrimination, not just two years, as under the federal law.

It also allows treble damages, bars reprisal against employees for disclosing compensation, job titles and other pertinent information to a lawyer or government agency; prohibits conditioning employment on waiver of employee rights, and requires companies doing work for the state to supply demographic and compensation information on every employee involved in the work.

The measure was introduced in February 2016, passed the Senate a week later and cleared both houses about a month after that. Of the 120 members of the Legislature, only 18 votes were cast against the bill, 4 in the Senate and 14 in the Assembly, with 14 total abstentions. Ten of the “yea” votes were cast by Republicans.

Despite that overwhelming and bipartisan support, Gov. Chris Christie conditionally vetoed the bill in May 2016. He opposed allowing plaintiffs to recover all the pay they were denied on account of discrimination, insisting on the same two-year limit as the federal law, and disapproved of the treble damages proviso.

In addition, Christie thought that employers should be allowed to require job applicants to waive the two-year statute to limitations saying that would align with current law. He was probably referring to the 2014 decision in Rodriguez v Raymours Furniture, where an appeals court found such a waiver enforceable. In that case, it reduced the time to sue from two years to a mere six months.

The Rodriguez ruling, however, was overturned by New Jersey’s Supreme Court one month after Christie’s conditional veto, in June 2016. The court held, 6 to 0, that allowing such a truncation of the time to sue would frustrate the purpose of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The court further indicated that the waiver was probably unconscionable and thus unenforceable for that reason as well.

The Star Ledger reported that Weinberg said there was an attempt to compromise with Christie on the legislation but the negotiations were unsuccessful.

So instead of watering down S-992, the Democrats tried for an override in the Senate on Jan. 23. It required two-thirds of the 40-member chamber–27 votes, which was one fewer than the 28 the bill garnered on original passage.

But after a heated debate, the override had only 23 backers, prompting chief sponsor Weinberg to pull the bill before an official tally and try again for an override at some later date.

According to the Star Ledger, three Democrats were absent, three of the five Republicans who supported the bill the first time voted against the override and there were multiple abstentions.

Sweeney has indicated he will bring the bill up for a vote again when all Democrats are present.

January 18, 2017 | Mary Gallagher

An op-ed piece by Raymond Castro, a senior policy analyst with NJ Policy Perspective, explains why Governor Chris Christie should speak out against repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

http://www.nj.com/opinion/index.ssf/2017/01/gop_governors_are_standing_up_for_obamacare_why_is.html

Christie’s “most important legacy as Governor” was taking advantage of the ACA to expand Medicaid to cover more than half a million low-income New Jerseyans, but that legacy would be lost with repeal.

Further, repeal would undermine the major behavioral-health and substance-use disorder initiative Christie announced at his State of the State address on January 13, which relies on Medicaid funding.

Castro called on Christie to join with other Republican governors such as John Kasich of Ohio and Rick Snyder of Michigan to press Congress to preserve health care for their constituents.

Castro was urging Christie to act last week while Congress was laying the ground work for repeal but it is not too late.

The question for Castro is whether Christie, during his final year in office, will “seek to protect essential health care for struggling residents of his home state, or will he sit on the sidelines while his party destroys a lifeline for millions of Americans?”

January 17, 2017 | Mary Gallagher

The criminal case against Governor Chris Christie over the Bridgegate lane-closing scandal met with a setback on Jan. 12 when a state judge sent it back down to municipal court for a new hearing on probable cause.

Bergen County Assignment Judge Bonnie Mizdol vacated the probable cause determination made last October by Roy McGeady, the county’s Presiding Municipal Judge, on the ground that Christie was denied his constitutional right to counsel

The case was already out of the ordinary in that a citizen activist had succeeded in launching the case against Christie after state legislative hearings and a federal criminal investigation failed to achieve that result, though many were left wondering if Christie was one of the unindicted co-conspirators referred to in the federal prosecution whose names were never made public. The federal trial judge ordered release of the list but the Third Circuit Court of Appeals overturned her decision. ,

The case took another strange turn when the prosecutors to whom McGeady entrusted the case sided with Christie’s criminal defense counsel in attacking the probable cause decision.

Mizdol ruled in their favor, holding Christie was “improperly denied counsel at a critical stage,” mandating reversal of the probable cause finding.

Christie’s lawyer, Craig Carpenito of Alston & Bird, was present in court for the Oct. 13 probable cause hearing and had submitted a nine-page letter on Christie’s behalf. But McGeady told Carpenito that he had read only the conclusion and would not allow him to participate because until probable cause was found to exist, Christie was not yet a defendant and thus had no standing.

Mizdol did not address the merits of the case, which was brought as a citizen complaint by Bill Brennan of Wayne, a retired firefighter who has a history of trying to hold elected officials accountable and recently announced he intends to run for governor.

Brennan alleged that Christie knew of the local lane closures to the George Washington Bridge while they were underway in September 2013, and of the resulting traffic nightmare in Fort Lee, but failed to remedy the situation despite having a duty to act.

That conduct allegedly constituted official misconduct under N.J.S.A. 2C:30-2b, a second-degree crime punishable by a minimum five- year prison term and as much as ten years. There must be proof that the act or failure to act was for the purpose of obtaining a benefit for oneself or to injure or deprive another of a benefit.

In his complaint, Brennan contended that Christie sought to benefit by obtaining endorsements for his reelection from Democratic mayors, to deprive Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich, a Democrat who withheld endorsement, from being able to meet the needs of his constituents, and also “to injure the citizens of the State of New Jersey by forcing them to sit in traffic that was created by his appointees with malicious intent.”

McGeady found that the threshold for probable cause was met based on transcripts Brennan submitted of sworn testimony from the federal Bridgegate trial.

That trial, still ongoing at the time of the first probable cause hearing, concluded in early November with guilty verdicts for two Christie appointees: Bill Baroni, former Port Authority Deputy Executive Director, and Bridget Kelly, former Christie Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs. Both were found guilty of conspiring to shut down the local access lanes to the George Washington Bridge, the nation’s busiest.

Brennan relied on testimony from David Wildstein, Director of Interstate Capital Projects for the Port Authority and also a Christie appointee, who orchestrated the lane closures and pleaded guilty in 2015 to two related conspiracy counts.

Brennan also testified at the hearing and was questioned by McGeady but was not subject to cross-examination by Carpenito.

McGeady concluded that the probable cause standard — which he characterized as low but more than just suspicion – had been met and referred the matter to the Bergen County Prosecutor.

Brennan then asked Mizdol to disqualify the Bergen Prosecutor and Attorney General, both Christie appointees, as tainted by conflicts of interest and to name a special prosecutor to handle the case but Mizdol rebuffed the request.

When Christie appealed the probable cause finding based on denial of counsel, the Bergen County Prosecutor filed supporting papers and joined him in asking Mizdol to vacate the finding.

Some have taken note of how unusual it is to see the prosecution siding with defense counsel to throw out a criminal case.

For example, Star Ledger columnist Paul Mulshine in a Jan. 5 piece entitled “Bergen Prosecutor Comes to Christie’s Defense in Bridgegate Case” marveled “That was a new one on me. I’ve been writing about various legal proceedings for years. In every case I’ve covered the prosecution prosecutes and the defense defends. . . . Not in this case.”

Mulshine referred to the alignment as a “defense/prosecutor tag team” and quoted state senator Ray Lesniak, himself a lawyer, as saying he had “never seen a prosecutor make a move like this.”

However unusual such a move might be, it has happened before and in perhaps the most pertinent instance, in a case involving Christie, politics and official misconduct charges.

Last year, the state of New Jersey paid $1.5 million to settle Barlyn v. Dow, a whistleblower suit brought by Bennett Barlyn, who claimed the Christie Administration quashed a Hunterdon County case in which the sheriff and two others, political allies of Christie and Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, were indicted by a grand jury on multiple counts of official misconduct.

The indictments included charges that the defendants provided law enforcement ID cards to unauthorized people, including Dr. Robert Hariri, the chairman of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics, who with his wife donated more than $10,000 to Christie’s 2009 campaign and was appointed to Christie’s transition team.

In 2010, on the day the indictments were unsealed, the Attorney General’s office took over the Hunterdon Prosecutor’s office, had the case files moved to Trenton and a few months later got a judge to dismiss the indictments, claiming they had factual and legal deficiencies.

Barlyn, then an Assistant Hunterdon County prosecutor, did not work on the case but protested that the dismissals were improper and politically corrupt. He was suspended the next day and subsequently fired without explanation, according to his wrongful termination suit.

In February 2015, Barlyn was interviewed by two federal investigators, at least one of whom was part of the Bridgegate investigation.

Barlyn said a “heavy focus” of the conversation was a statement that appeared in the Hunterdon County Democrat at the time of the indictments.  The newspaper reported that a Sheriff’s Department employee claimed one of the defendants had said Christie would “step in (and} have this whole thing thrown out.” The investigators were interested in why that defendant “would specifically identify Christie as a person who would intervene and dismiss the case,” according to Barlyn.

He was subsequently informed by letter that it was “not apparent on the face of your submission that there have been potential violations of federal criminal law.”

In 2014, the state Legislative Select Committee looking into Bridgegate also expressed an interest in looking into Barlyn’s allegations but then decided against it without explanation.

The Christie administration fought Barlyn for years, paying more than $3 million in legal fees before agreeing to pay the $1.5 million.

So, yes, there is precedent for prosecutors scuttling a case, though it can prove very costly.

In a radio interview right after Mizdol made her probable cause decision, Brennan expressed confidence that he will prevail once again at the new probable cause hearing, set for Feb. 2. He noted that with more Bridgegate trial testimony having been given since the date of the first hearing, he will have even more evidence than last time.

January 3, 2017 | Mary Gallagher

Despite the human and fiscal harm that would result from repeal, Republicans have pronounced it a priority and on Jan. 4, the Senate took an initial step toward that goal, approving a budget resolution that would clear the way for such legislation. The House is expected to follow suit next week.

In its last frenzied voting session before the end-of-year break, the New Jersey Legislature passed a resolution that calls on Congress not to repeal the Affordable Care Act, or ACA, also commonly referred to as Obamacare. The complete text of Assembly Concurrent Resolution 222 can be found at http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2016/Bills/ACR/222_I1.HTM

The ACA, the most significant government overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system in the more than 50 years since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965, is under serious threat from the incoming administration of President-Elect Donald Trump, who vowed during his campaign to repeal it.

His nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services is Rep. Tom Price, a Georgia Republican and avowed ACA opponent, who has sought in the past to repeal the law and replace it with tax credits and expanded health savings accounts

Since the ACA took effect in 2010, the law has enabled as many as 20 million Americans to obtain health insurance through the subsidized marketplace it created and its expansion of Medicaid. Many more have benefited from the elimination of annual and lifetime limits on coverage and of barriers to care based on pre-existing conditions.

On top of that, the ACA required preventive services, such as immunizations and screenings, to be free of charge to consumers and enabled millions of young adults to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26. Its cost control provisions have helped slow the rate of health care cost increases.

In New Jersey alone, hundreds of thousands of people have gained coverage and millions of others have benefited from strengthened coverage.

Repeal would not only deprive millions of their coverage but would carry a high economic price tag, according to a report released on Jan. 4 by The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a bipartisan nonprofit whose stated mission is “educating the public on issues with significant fiscal policy impact.” Utilizing Congressional Budget Office figures, the Committee calculated that a full repeal could cost as much as $350 billion through 2027. The money saved by the federal government on coverage subsidies and Medicaid expansion would be more than offset by the loss of various ACA-created taxes and fees, including insurance mandate penalties, as well as the reversal of savings on Medicare and Medicaid.

Despite the human and fiscal harm that would result from repeal, Republicans have pronounced it a priority and on Jan. 4, the Senate took an initial step toward that goal, approving a budget resolution that would clear the way for it. The House is expected to follow suit next week.

The New Jersey resolution did not draw much notice when it passed on Dec. 19 because attention was focused on two other contentious pieces of legislation. One would have enabled Gov. Chris Christie to profit from a book deal while still in office by removing strictures on outside income and the other would strike a serious blow to the state’s newspapers–and by extension, government accountability–by allowing legal notices to be posted on government websites rather than in newspapers, as is now required. Both of those bills failed, fortunately, in the face of public outcry.

The resolution states: “The Congress and President of the United States are respectfully urged not to repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and to ensure that any revisions or modifications to the law adequately maintain continuing health coverage for those individuals who would otherwise lose their health benefits upon repeal and preserve the significant gains that have been realized through the law in the years following its enactment.”

In a party-line vote, it was approved 46-30 in the Assembly and 22-14 in the Senate.

It was to be filed with the Secretary of State and transmitted by the Clerk of the Assembly or Secretary of the Senate to House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and to every member of the New Jersey Congressional delegation.

New Jersey is not alone in pushing back against a repeal.

The Democratic Governors Association, whose members include Andrew Cuomo of New York, Dan Malloy of Connecticut, Terry McAuliffe of Virginia and Kate Brown of Oregon, conveyed a similar message to Ryan and McConnell in a Dec. 21 letter. https://democraticgovernors.org/wp-content/uploads/DGA-ACA-letter-12.21.16-FINAL.pdf

And on Dec. 28, three leading Democrats—Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Chuck Schumer of New York, along with Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, circulated a Dear Colleague letter designating Jan. 15 a day of action to oppose repeal of the ACA along with anticipated attacks on Medicare and Medicaid. https://berniesanders.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/161222-Dear-Colleague-Health-Care-SIGNED.pdf

 

 

December 16, 2016 | Mary Gallagher

It is hard to believe now but in the decades following its creation in 1921, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was considered a prime example of an effective and efficient public agency that truly operated in the public interest.

That reputation has been sullied in recent years and not just by the Bridgegate lane-closing scandal and the ensuing criminal convictions of some of those involved. There is also former Port Authority chairman David Samson, who was convicted of misusing his position to shake down United Airlines so that it would reinstate direct flights from Newark to his weekend home. On a broader scale are revelations of how New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used the agency’s resources to reward political allies, while tolls at Port Authority crossings and fares hikes on PATH trains have been repeatedly hiked.

Robert Hennelly describes the agency’s fall from grace in “Beyond Bridgegate: How to Pull the Partisan Politics Out of the Port Authority,” published Dec. 12 on City and State, an online news magazine focused on New York

Hennelly describes a Port Authority in its heyday that does not at all resemble the political patronage pit and goody bag into which it has devolved.

“Its successful and nearly simultaneous completion of no fewer than four bridges in the late 1920s and early 1930s (the Goethals Bridge, the Outerbridge Crossing, the Bayonne Bridge and the George Washington Bridge) all ahead of schedule and well under budget, established the agency’s reputation for avoiding the pitfalls of petty partisan politics,” writes Hennelly. “The Port Authority was a shining example to a nation in need of a can-do spirit, an agency whose utility was demonstrated with every trip over one of its bridges or through one of its tunnels.”

Hennelly asks the crucial question: “So what changed in the almost century-long arc of the Port Authority that it went from transcending partisan politics to being a tool of it, to the point that it was involved in criminality that preyed on the very public it was supposed to serve?”

The problems began well before Bridgegate as the agency’s “early ability to complete projects ahead of schedule and below cost estimates had become a distant memory” and worsened in the aftermath of Sept. 11, as cost overruns on the new World Trade Center complex sank the agency deeper into debt, according to Hennelly.

He cites a report finding that in just 10 years, that debt spiked form $9 billion to $21 billion, a development that coincided with the agency boosting gross compensation for its own workforce by 19 percent in just five years. Today, the average Port Authority employee makes more than $143,000 in salary and benefits, Hennelly reports.

Hennelly quotes historian Jameson Doig, who points fingers, not just at Christie but also at New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and at former New York Gov. George Pataki for appointing as executive director George Marlin, who Doig claims undermined the agency in various ways, including demolishing the planning staff.

One suggested fix for the situation is a more diverse board.

As Baruch College professor Doug Muzzio told Hennelly: “What you have is all white guys in real estate, the law or money management. This has created a very insular worldview. Where’s the representation of the New York or New Jersey commuter? You just need more voices.”

The entire article can be read here:

http://cityandstateny.com/articles/politics/new-york-state-articles/beyond-bridgegate-how-to-pull-the-partisan-politics-out-of-the-port-authority.html#.WFB0mZUzXIW

December 8, 2016 | Mary Gallagher

UPDATE: Since this article was written, the New Jersey Supreme Court has denied an appeal, leaving the issue for the Legislature to address.

In a test case with nation-wide implications, the New Jersey Supreme Court is being asked to decide whether it is constitutional to require voters to register prior to Election Day now that electronic voter databases have made it much easier and faster to determine eligibility.

The plaintiffs in Rutgers Student Assembly v. Middlesex County Board of Elections seek to convince the Court to strike down the New Jersey law requiring that voters to  register at least 21 days before an election.

Two lower courts have refused to do so, and the plaintiffs now seek to have the New Jersey Supreme Court decide the case.

They have been backed in the litigation by Common Cause, which says the case is the first in the U.S. to ask if advance registration remains constitutional where a state has a Statewide Voter Registration System (SVRS).

The suit was brought by the New Jersey chapter of the ACLU, the New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center and the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic on behalf of Rutgers University students, Middlesex County residents, the Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey and New Jersey Citizen Action.

They assert that having to register at least three weeks in advance is no longer necessary and presents an unjustified obstacle to the fundamental right to vote. They rely on the state constitution, which guarantees the right to vote to every U.S. citizen over the age of 18 who has lived in New Jersey for at least 30 days.

They say the 21-day rule burdens some would-be New Jersey voters more than others, such as those who have recently relocated to or within the state and younger people, who tend to be more mobile, as well as new citizens and those just released from prison. .

The plaintiffs provided examples of their own disenfranchisement due to the advance registration requirement despite their meeting the constitutional criteria to vote.

Two registered on time but when they showed up to vote were not on the voter rolls. One was refused a provisional ballot and though the other received one, it was later deemed ineligible and not counted because officials could not verify that he met the 21-day mandate. Another moved from Mercer to Middlesex but did not change her registration by Election Day and though she was provided with a provisional ballot, it was likewise deemed ineligible and not counted.

Speaking to the scale of the problem, the complaint noted that, nearly 19,000 provisional ballots cast in New Jersey for the 2008 presidential election were not counted even though more than 16,000 of them contained affirmations that were accepted as registrations for future elections. In other words, those 16,000 did not get to vote in the 2008 elections because they did not register in time despite being otherwise eligible.

Voters are required to register in advance so that their eligibility, including place of residence, can be verified by the date of election.

The federal Help America Vote Act, enacted in the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election with its butterfly ballots, hanging chads and interrupted recount, required states to implement computerized voter systems, or SVRS’s.

In 2007, New Jersey implemented its SVRS, which allows same-day verification of eligibility by cross-referencing against other government databases such as Motor Vehicle Commission records.

Three presidential elections have been held since then and two since the suit was commenced in 2011 against the Middlesex County Board of Elections and Commissioner of Registrations.

The plaintiffs believe that many of the millions of New Jerseyans who failed to vote in those election — more than 110,00 and as many as 250,000 in each—were disenfranchised by the 21-day law.

Judge Heidi Willis Currier of Middlesex County Chancery Court, granted summary judgment for the defendants, dismissing the case, a decision was upheld by the Appellate Division in a precedential July 1, 2016 opinion.

The appeals court applied the balancing test from Burdick v. Takushi, a 1976 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that the validity of a voting restriction is determined by weighing the burden on the right to vote against the state’s interest in imposing that burden.

The appeals court found that the burden on the right to vote from the 21-day requirement was minimal and non-discriminatory and thus a reasonable restriction. Its view was that voters have ample opportunity to register beforehand in accordance with the statute, which can be done by mail or in person at numerous government offices, using registration forms that are available in a variety of languages anc can be downloaded from the internet.

The judges rejected plaintiff’s position that the SVRS rendered advance registration obsolete because unregistered voters who show up on election day and complete provisional ballots could have their eligibility determined within 24 hours.

Relying on evidence from the Middlesex County Board that in 2008, it took 30 employees working overtime for a full seven days to process 5,617 provisional ballots, the court worried about what would happen if huge numbers of unregistered voters showed up on election day and cast provisional ballots. The judges thought it would delay final election results by weeks, “creating uncertainty, tension, and likely increased litigation as to election outcomes, which would undermine public confidence in the integrity of the election process.

The judges were also concerned that Election Day registration would interfere with the ability to verify voter addresses by sending sample ballots beforehand, even while noting that only two cases of voter fraud had occurred in recent years.

The amicus curiae brief that Common Cause filed on the appeal urged the court to take into account the success of Election Day voting in those states that have it and described how it works in some of them.

For example, California which now requires registration two weeks in advance will start using its own SVRS called VoteCal next year. Under VoteCal, for the two weeks prior to before Election Day and on the day itself, unregistered voters will be allowed to file a conditional voter registration and cast a provisional ballot at a county elections office. Voting officials will be required to try to validate voter information in time for the vote to count, cross-checking it against motor vehicle and Social Security records.

The New Jersey appeals court did not view what other states were doing as relevant to the issue before it, which it defined as whether the New Jersey law was constitutional, “not whether an alternate form of registration might be a better policy choice.”

One of the three judges in the case, however, Mitchel Ostrer, filed a concurring opinion, in which he agreed that the law did not violate the constitution but indicated he did not necessarily support it on policy grounds. Ostrer pointed out that although it is for the Legislature to decide whether to allow same-day registration, if it did allow it, New Jersey would be following the example of at least 16 other states that have adopted it, including Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The petition for certification, filed in late September, asserts that a heightened level of scrutiny should have been applied to the law, given the fundamental right at stake, and that the lower court judge improperly resolved on summary judgment, without factual support, questions regarding the state’s ability to process Election Day voter registrations.

If the Supreme Court does grant review, it will have the benefit of the intervening decision by the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in NAACP v. McCrory. That case involved North Carolina, which had a same-day registration process similar to California’s until it was eliminated by a 2013 law that also imposed a photo ID requirement, ended out-of-precinct voting and preregistration by 16 and 17 year olds applying for their drivers’ licenses and reduced the number of early voting days, among other provisions.

On July 29, the Fourth Circuit struck down those provisions as violating the Voting Rights Act because they discriminated against African Americans who were more inclined to use same-day registration and early voting and less likely to have photo IDs.

On the legislative front in New Jersey, there is no pending bill that would eliminate the advance registration requirement though one measure, S-1502, would reduce the 21 days to 14. The last time the law was amended was 2005, when the same legislation that led to implementation of the SVRS cut the then-30 day advance registration requirement to the current 21 days.

S-1502 has only one sponsor, Sen. Shirley Turner, D-Mercer and no Assembly counterpart and there has been no action on it since it was introduced in February. It has also been kicking around since 2008 and though it passed the Senate by a 21-17 vote in 2012 has never been introduced in the Assembly.

Another measure that could shorten registration time and might get more traction is S-1403/A-2816, which requires the state to provide online voter registration and set new deadlines for it that would presumably be less than three weeks.

Voter information would be checked against Motor Vehicle Commission records and drivers’ license signatures would be used as signatures of record for voting.

That bill has been introduced in both houses, with a total of five sponsors, including Senator Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen. It won approval from a Senate committee last March though that is something it has done in two prior sessions without advancing any further.

Thirty one other states plus the District of Columbia provide online voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

 

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