NJ WILL HAVE OWN HEALTH EXCHANGE

New Jersey took a major step forward in protecting health care coverage for state residents on June 28, when Governor Phil Murphy signed a law authorizing the creation of New Jersey’s own health exchange.

Only 11 states, including New York and California, plus the District of Columbia, currently have their own exchanges, which are used by individuals and small employers to purchase government regulated and standardized health insurance policies under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly known as Obamacare. Continue reading NJ WILL HAVE OWN HEALTH EXCHANGE

PROTECTIONS AGAINST FORFEITURE, FORECLOSURE, AND RETIREMENT SAVINGS GAP ADVANCE IN LEGISLATURE

Legislation that made it through various committees on February 7 would make New Jersey a better and fairer place, enhancing the financial security of retirees, helping people prevent the loss of their homes through foreclosure, and protecting against abusive civil asset forfeitures.

I have written about the Secure Choice Act before, which would establish a state-run retirement savings plan for people whose employers do not offer one. The legislation is in response to studies showing that most people do not save enough on their own for retirement, even though Social Security payments are not enough for seniors to live on—the so-called “retirement savings gap.” Continue reading PROTECTIONS AGAINST FORFEITURE, FORECLOSURE, AND RETIREMENT SAVINGS GAP ADVANCE IN LEGISLATURE

In Support of Early Voting

The following editorial appeard on the nj.com website on January 16, 2019:

Starting two weeks before the last election, residents of Essex County, where I live, got to vote early by going to the Turtle Back Zoo education building in West Orange and filling out a vote-by-mail ballot. You first had to complete an application that was processed on the spot. The procedure was time-consuming and somewhat confusing but interest was high and lines were long.

They called it early voting but it wasn’t really. Early voting as done in other states allows voters to cast their ballots up to 46 days before Election Day using voting machines at multiple polling places in each county. What Essex had was a work-around that utilized the vote-by-mail process, because state law does not authorize the real thing.

True early voting might come to New Jersey through a package of reforms that Governor Murphy is proposing, as discussed in a New York Times article on January 9. Continue reading In Support of Early Voting

ACLU REPORT HIGHLIGHTS FORFEITURE FLAWS

A new report from the New Jersey affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union takes a good, hard look at civil asset forfeiture and concludes that it is prone to widespread abuse and disproportionately used against people of color.

Civil asset forfeiture, also known as civil forfeiture, and sometimes disparagingly referred to as “policing for profit” is a legal process by which law enforcement officers take people’s property away from them on mere suspicion of a crime without necessarily arresting them or bringing charges. The statutes that govern it are N.J.S.A. 2C:64-1 et seq.

The textbook case of civil forfeiture is the seizure of illegal narcotics from suspected drug dealers, as well as cash believed to have been used in or earned from narcotics transactions.

But forfeiture can involve a wide range of assets, many of which are far more innocuous. Cars, boats, houses, jewelry, art, electronics – just about anything can be seized. The report lists baseball cards, a bicycle, an iPod, shoes and laptops, among other items. Continue reading ACLU REPORT HIGHLIGHTS FORFEITURE FLAWS

NEW JERSEY APPLESEED STATEMENT ON PROPOSED REDISTRICTING AMENDMENT

New Jersey Appleseed Public Interest Law Center today issued the following statement on the proposed constitutional amendment now pending before the Legislature (SCR152 and ACR205) that deals with how state legislative districts are drawn.

After a careful analysis of the pending proposals to alter the State’s reapportionment commission, New Jersey Appleseed has concluded that the proposal would be marginally more harmful than the status quo to the public interest, and to the interest of New Jersey voters. Nonetheless, for reasons more fully stated below, New Jersey Appleseed urges that the current proposal be rejected and that the Assembly and Senate should remand apportionment reform to an appropriate committee, for the establishment of a significantly new system that involves the creation of a citizen-based or nonpartisan commission.

The current method by which both redistricting and reapportionment are performed in New Jersey is at best characterized as minimally acceptable, but short of a just and fair system to which voters are entitled.

As it has operated to date, one political party insider from each of the two major political parties appoints other political party insiders to the reapportionment commission.  In the last reapportionment commission, in 2011, seven of the eleven members were sitting legislators.  Although the overwhelming presence of sitting legislators who have a self-interest in how districts are drawn is problematic, the current system has some protection against excesses.  Namely, because the maps proffered by each political party’s appointees must earn the support of a nonpartisan member appointed by the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, the map drafters are thereby deterred from offering outrageously gerrymandered maps as some other states have witnessed.  The results of this process in the past have been minimally acceptable, but they have still fallen far short of what is obtainable as a matter of fairness and justice.

New Jersey Appleseed does not find that greater diffusion in who chooses reapportionment commission members is intrinsically bad policy.   We do find it problematic, however, that the current proposal would result in the appointing authorities remaining, as is true under the current system, political insiders with a vested interest in the outcome of the map.

Nor do we find the mandate of a minimum number of competitive districts to be intrinsically flawed.  On the contrary, promoting competitive districts is a legitimate factor for the creation of responsible redistricting and reapportionment plans.  The problem with the proposed redistricting amendment is that, for the remaining districts – those not deemed to be competitive, there is no meaningful protection against them being “packed” and “cracked” in a way that would create a legislative map that is unjust – not just to political parties – but more importantly, to voters.

New Jersey can confidently look to other states that have created redistricting and reapportionment commissions that draw on experienced professionals, yet seek to minimize (though not eliminate) the role of self-interested legislators and political party insiders in the creation of maps.

While these other methods, sometimes called “citizen-based” or “nonpartisan” commissions, vary in their specifics, what they have in common is they rightly grant political parties and officeholders a full opportunity to be heard in regard to map-drawing.  However, they also ensure that legislators and legislative leadership do not serve as, nor do they appoint, a majority of the committee that actually draws the maps. Among others, California, Colorado, and Iowa all have responsible processes that minimize the influence of political party insiders, either as members of redistricting commissions, or with the responsibility of directly appointing members of these commissions.  These states’ processes provide useful templates from which New Jersey voters could obtain redistricting and reapportionment processes that have the public interest at heart, rather than the self-interest that is promoted by both the current system and the pending amendment proposals.

New Jersey Appleseed therefore urges that SCR152 and ACR205 be rejected, and the matter remanded to the appropriate Senate and Assembly Committee for a proposal that creates a citizen-based, rather than a party-based, redistricting and reapportionment system.

The above statement was prepared by New Jersey Appleseed Executive Director Renée Steinhagen and board member Flavio Komuves.

NEW JERSEY VOTES STILL HACKABLE

Election Day is upon us again and it is one that many of us view as crucial to saving our democracy, as we mobilize to flip control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate too, so we can thwart the destructive policies of Donald Trump.

The day after last year’s election, I wrote a blog post about the vulnerability of New Jersey’s  voting machines. I am sorry to say that, although some small steps have been taken since then, our votes are still at risk, despite mounting evidence that they are not secure and that Russia hacked some states’ election systems in 2016.

New Jersey remains one of a handful of states where the validity of election results cannot be confirmed because the votes are recorded electronically and lack a verifiable paper trail.  Continue reading NEW JERSEY VOTES STILL HACKABLE

MEASURE WILL HELP PLUG RETIREMENT SAVINGS “GAP”

State legislation to create a retirement savings program for private sector workers took a step forward last week.

On October 15, the New Jersey Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee approved A-4134, the Secure Choice Savings Program Act, by a vote of  8-to-3, with 2 committee members not voting.

We all know that Social Security, as helpful and necessary as it is, is not enough for seniors to live on. According to figures from AARP (formerly American Association of Retired Persons), the average monthly Social Security retirement benefit in New Jersey is $1,377/month. Just try living on that in this state, where the average monthly rental for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,199 per month, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. With utilities, food, clothing, medical expenses and other expenses, the math simply does not add up.  Continue reading MEASURE WILL HELP PLUG RETIREMENT SAVINGS “GAP”