Bill Hartman and Shirley Santos
CCREA Government Relations Report
Our Government Relations Team would like to share our heartfelt condolences and prayers for the sudden loss of New Jersey's Lieutenant Governor, Sheila Y. Oliver, on August 1, 2023, when she was serving as our acting Governor while Governor Murphy was on vacation. Mrs. Oliver was the first Black woman to serve as Lieutenant Governor of NJ and the first woman of color elected to statewide office in NJ.
In the Spring of 2023, all NJREA Government Relations representatives participated in four lobby days. They talked to legislators about the state budget, the sick leave bill, and higher education funding and reminded them to fund our pensions and health care. Here is an update on these critical issues.
State Budget: Governor Phil Murphy signed the Fiscal Year 2024 Appropriations Act into Law on June 30, 2023.
The state budget included 20 tax cuts for working and middle-class families and seniors, including more than $2 billion in direct property tax relief for the second year of the ANCHOR property tax relief program. ANCHOR will provide a $250 boost in relief for senior homeowners and renters this year. Eligible senior tenants will now see their relief boosted by more than 55 percent to $700 in the coming year, and homeowners will receive $1,250 or
$1,750, depending on their income. The budget also included the NJStay plan that will provide tax credits worth half a senior's property tax bill up to $6,500 for incomes up to $500,000. Benefits for the program do not go out until January 2026. (State of NJ, 2023)
Additional relief for seniors was also enacted alongside the budget, which will expand eligibility for the Senior Freeze property tax relief program next year for those with incomes up to $150,000, up from roughly $100,000. It also increases eligibility for the State's senior prescription drug and hearing aid programs to help make New Jersey more affordable for individuals of all ages. In addition to raising the income eligibility limits for the Pharmaceutical Assistance to the Aged and Disabled Program (PAAD) to benefit more seniors, the new law includes several directives to encourage enrollment in both PAAD and the Senior Gold Prescription Program, including establishing a grant program in the Department of Human Services to support the hiring and training of Senior Save Navigators to assist residents in applying for programs such as PAAD and Senior Gold. (State of NJ, 2023)
The Sick Leave Bill: new law, signed by Governor Murphy on July 3, 2023, affords New Jersey public school employees with expanded reasons to use sick leave. Until now, the law only allowed sick days for personal illness. Under the new law, sick days can also be used to care for family illnesses and other obligations. (NJEA Action Center, 2023).
Pension Payment: The 2024 state budget included the third consecutive full pension payment. The $7.1 billion payment, which includes contributions from the State Lottery, brings the total contribution to the pension fund under the Murphy Administration to $32.6 billion, nearly triple the $12.2 billion paid under the previous six administrations combined. (State of NJ, 2023)
Public Education and Higher Education: The budget provided another record total of $11 billion in direct K-12 aid for public schools, including an increase of $832 million, as well as $103 million in supplemental stabilization aid enacted in April for school districts adjusting to changes in aid based on enrollment. "Advancing the Governor's goal of universal pre-K, the budget included an additional $116 million for preschool education aid, $40 million of which will go towards expanding programs in new districts and other critical needs for further expansion." (State of NJ, 2023)
The budget also strengthened the Community College Opportunity Grant and the Garden State Guarantee. Additionally, the budget increased the value of Tuition Aid Grants for over 20,000 students. It also provided over $150 million for State colleges and universities, compared to $55 million in FY2023, and included $100 million to help cover costs at public research universities, community colleges, and independent higher education institutions. (State of NJ, 2023)
UPDATES ON ACTION ITEMS:
Gender Policies - New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin filed civil rights lawsuits following the passage of new gender policies by three boards of education in Monmouth County that require school staff to notify parents if their children are trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming.
School Lunches for All (S3956) To reduce childhood hunger, legislators aim to make free school lunches accessible for all students by 2028.
OPRA- (A 5613, A-5614, A-5615, and A-5616) The four-bill package backed by Assemblyman Joe Danielsen (D- Somerset) would bar records requestors from directly challenging denied requests in Superior Court, shield documents related to public contracts from disclosure, impose limits on residents who file frequent records requests, and set new rules for businesses seeking government records. On Jun 15, 2023, the bill was Introduced and referred to Assembly Oversight, Reform, and Federal Relations Committee.
BILLS SENT TO THE GOVERNOR SINCE THE LAST UPDATE:
- A4978/S3086 - Establishes Division of Violence Intervention and Victim Assistance in the Department of Law and Public Safety. (Substituted for S-3086. Passed in Senate and sent to Governor 37-0)
- S528/A2815 - Requires certain additional school district personnel to complete a training program on suicide prevention. (Passed in Senate and sent to Governor 37-0.) (Support)
- S715/A1992 - Establishes a commission to study effects on adolescents' social media usage in and out of school. (Passed in Senate and sent to Governor 36-0.) (Support)
- S1553/A4525 - Permits State Board of Education to authorize alternative teaching certificate. (Passed in Senate and sent to Governor 36-1.) (Support)
Francine Pfeffer, NJEA Associate Director Government Relations, Legislative Update, June 2023