New Jersey Governor Signs New Legislation and Temporarily Freezes Part of Budget

July 11, 2019 by Elin Johnson

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed several pieces of legislation this past week, including bills that expand patient access to medical marijuana, ensure the health benefits and compensation to 9/11 responders, and prohibit utilities from cutting the power off on residents who rely on life-saving medical equipment.

Medical Marijuana 

The medical marijuana legislation signed by Governor Murphy both expands physical access to marijuana, authorizing licenses for up to 28 new marijuana growing businesses, but also reduces its cost.

Taxes on medical marijuana will be decreased in stages from the current 6.5% to zero by July 2022.

On site consumption will be permitted in certain places, and home delivery services will be expanded. Consumers will be able to buy three ounces of product, which is an increase from the two ounces allowed under the current law.

New Jersey’s regulation of the medical marijuana industry will now also pass from the state Department of Health to a newly created and entirely separate, Cannabis Regulatory Commission.

“The medicinal uses of marijuana have been proven safe for years, and yet, in New Jersey, we have arbitrarily restricted patients’ access since our program’s inception,” said state Senator Joseph Vitale, a Democrat from Middlesex, New Jersey, and one of the lead sponsors of the bill.  

Health Care for First Responders 

Murphy also signed two bills that provide enhanced health care and insurance benefits for first responders, including those who volunteered to rescue and clean up the World Trade Center after 9/11.

The “Bill Ricci World Trade Center Rescue, Recovery, and Cleanup Operations Act,” and the “Thomas P. Canzanella First Century First Responders Protection Act,” are both named after Ground Zero responders. 

Ricci volunteered to clean up the Ground Zero site, but was later ineligible for accidental disability retirement like many others in his position.

Members and retirees who volunteered will be eligible for accidental disability retirement. The legislation also creates an exemption for the five-year filing rule for 9/11 related issues.

Canzanella died of a heart attack in 2007, but members of his family and other first responders attended the bill signing.

The Canzanella bill alters worker’s compensation laws to create a presumption of coverage for public safety workers for some illnesses.

Previously, emergency responders had to prove the cause of their illness. Critics of the old regulation said that this puts undue burdens and costs onto people who were already suffering. 

“Thousands of courageous volunteers put their lives on the line in order to save those affected by the devastation of 9/11,” Governor Murphy said. “Today we send a clear message to all of our heroes: We have your back. I am proud to sign legislation that will ensure the health benefits and compensation that these incredible men and women deserve.”

Accountability for Utility Companies 

Governor Murphy also signed “Linda’s Law” which prohibits utility companies from cutting power and services to houses where residents rely on life-saving medical equipment.

The legislation was filed in response to the death last summer of a 68-year-old grandmother from Newark, Linda Daniels, who died after PSE&G cut power to her residence. In the summer heat Daniels lost the use of her air conditioning and electrified oxygen tank. According to PSE&G, her bill was overdue.

Electric public utility companies will have to verify with customers if they utilize electric medical equipment to survive before they cut power.

Budget Concerns

Governor Murphy also signed New Jersey’s 2020 budget last week, but then froze $235 million of the spending approved by the legislature. 

“We must be honest about its shortfalls: This is a budget that does not include tax fairness, does not ask opioid manufacturers to help fund addiction services, and does not raise gun fees that have been untouched since 1966,” Murphy said as he announced the freeze.

For the second year in a row, Murphy had proposed imposing a millionaire’s tax, hoping to raise more revenue from New Jersey residents earning $1 million or more per year. 

He lost that fight last year, settling for higher rates on those earning $5 million or more to make the budget deadline and avert a government shutdown.

Senate President Stephan Sweeney, also a Democrat, again opposed the millionaire’s tax proposal this year, dismissing it as a “gimmick.”

Sweeney called the freeze announced by Murphy,  “a shameless act of political retribution that is both petty and vindictive – it’s Bridgegate on steroids that punishes those who disagree.”

Included in the temporary freeze are local schools, food assistance for the hungry, town recreation programs, senior center funding, and infrastructure improvements. 

Related article | Nonprofits Worry As Evidence Mounts That 2017 Tax Cut Led to Less Giving

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