By Renee Steinhagen
Since our inception, NJ Appleseed has focused its efforts on legal electoral reform issues. Most recently, we have characterized our efforts in this area as “Empowering Democracy,” including two distinct projects: Enabling the Franchise (improving access to and encouraging participation in elections, campaign finance reform initiatives and promoting alternative forms of voting) and Facilitating Initiative and Referendum. For the past four to five years, NJ Appleseed served as co-counsel with the Rutgers Clinic (representing the Rutgers Student Union Association, NJ Citizen Action, the Latino Action Alliance and several individual voters) in a constitutional challenge to New Jersey’s advanced election registration system. The theory behind the case was that in light of the implementation of the State’s electronic Statewide Voter Registration System (with its capacity to verify voters identifying information within 24 hours) and its employment of provisional ballot affirmation statements, which are effective registration forms, the State had no valid interest justifying the burden imposed by such requirement on an individual’s right to vote under the State Constitution. The litigation went to the Appellate Division twice, before our Petition for Certification before the NJ Supreme Court was denied.
I would like to convert our litigation theories into several mini-white papers that would support and frame a legislative campaign to secure Same-Day Registration through our current provisional ballot system. Such papers would focus on (1) the burden imposed on voters by advanced registration, in particular low-income voters; (2)the administration of same-day registration schemes in other States; (3) the logistics of voting in NJ including the challenge system, the mailing of ballots, the counting of mail and provisional ballots, and other administrative features; and (4) the capacity of the current SVR system to detect in person fraud or double voting.
NJ Appleseed would draft a proposed bill amending the current election code and generate a grass-roots campaign, with its partners, across the State to generate public support for permitting Same-Day registration by employing our current provisional ballot system. Depending on the outcome of the November 2017 election, I anticipate that we could get this change enacted by the middle of 2018 if Democrats prevail in the Legislature and Governor’s office.
A two-year-old rule that makes it harder to collect unemployment benefits in New Jersey has been struck down in court.
On May 1, a three-judge Appellate Division panel invalidated N.J.A.C. 12:17-2.1 as arbitrary and capricious, finding it illogical and confusing and calling it a “linguistic morass, one that cannot be readily or sensibly understood and applied.”
Continue reading COURT NIXES RULE LIMITING UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS
The New Jersey Assembly has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would protect people who speak out on public issues from baseless lawsuits meant to intimidate them into silence.
The legislation, A-603, targets SLAPP suits, the shorthand for what are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
SLAPP suits, which often occur in the context of opposition to real estate development projects, pitting people from the community against a wealthy corporation, are meant to deter opposition because of the high cost of defending them, even if they are eventually thrown out for lack merit or withdrawn once the developer or other SLAPP plaintiff has succeeded in quelling critics.
Continue reading NEW HOPE FOR anti-SLAPP BILL
What is probably the most significant case in years affecting public access to government records and information was argued before the New Jersey Supreme Court on Feb. 28.
Unless the lower court decision Paff v. Galloway is reversed, members of the public will have diminished access under New Jersey’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA) to the vast quantities of information stored electronically in government computers.
The case is viewed as so critical to the public right of access to electronic data that it has drawn the participation of an international data rights group, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), whose mission is defending civil liberties in the digital realm.
At issue is an OPRA request for all emails sent during a two week period in June 2013 by the Township Clerk and Chief of Police of Galloway Township in Atlantic County. The requestor, John Paff, a longtime advocate for government transparency, did not seek the emails in their entirety but only a log or list of the sender, recipient, date, and subject for each of them.
Continue reading NJ JUSTICES TO DECIDE MAJOR OPEN RECORDS CASE
Monarch Towers’ Rendering of Proposed Development
Bird’s Eye View Taken from Google Earth of the Pier
View of the Dilapidated Pier
View of the Dilapidated Pier
Context of this Case
A battle over whether a developer will be allowed to renege on a promise to provide open space on the Hoboken waterfront was argued before the Appellate Division on February 28.
New Jersey Appleseed’s Renee Steinhagen represents Fund for a Better Waterfront in several related appeals involving the Monarch Towers development.
The dispute concerns whether two 11 -story condominium towers can be built on a nearly two-acre waterfront parcel where the developer promised in 1997 to provide open space, including tennis courts and the final segment of the developer’s Hudson River Waterfront Walkway.
The construction faces fierce public opposition and would violate Hoboken ordinances that prohibit residential development on piers and platforms over the Hudson River. Those ordinances were adopted in December of 2013 in response to Superstorm Sandy, and in conformance with newly adopted federal and state standards to protect communities from flood hazards.
Read below about this case and NJ Appleseed’s work: Ron Hine reports for the Fund for a Better Waterfront.
Continue reading NJ APPLESEED FIGHTS FOR OPEN SPACE ON HOBOKEN WATERFRONT
UPDATE: Since this article was posted, District Judge Crabtree in the Kansas case followed the lead of Judge Lynn on February 17, granting summary judgment for the Department of Labor and denying a cross motion by plaintiff Market Synergy Group, which sought to block the rule.
Just days after Donald Trump took steps to derail a rule meant to protect retirement investments, a federal court decision has bolstered hopes for its survival.
The regulation, known as the fiduciary rule, was adopted by the Department of Labor (DOL) last April and took effect in June 2016. Compliance was to start on April 10 of this year, with some aspects of the rule not set to kick in until 2018.
The rule requires financial advisers to act in the best interest of the clients who pay them for their professional advice and prohibits them from recommending or selling inferior or more costly investments that will garner them higher commissions.
Continue reading RULE PROTECTING RETIREMENT INVESTMENTS SURVIVES COURT CHALLENGES.