Gov. Murphy signs 151 new bills

The bills signed yesterday run the gamut of just about every issue that has been of concern to Murphy or Democratic lawmakers over the governor’s first two years in office.

Gov. Phil Murphy (Edwin J. Torres/ Governor's Office)

Gov. Phil Murphy (Edwin J. Torres/ Governor's Office)

Flavored vaping products will soon be illegal in New Jersey, state lottery winners can now remain anonymous and the Garden State got a “state dog” with Gov. Phil Murphy’s signing of 151 bills, about 80% of the last batch lawmakers sent him before the end of the last legislative session last Tuesday.

Murphy did not sign, and thus pocket vetoed, another 33 measures, including ones that would have tightened regulations for tobacco and vaping sales, allowed preserved farms to hold 14 special events a year and required the installation of automatic fire sprinkler systems in new townhouses.

Yesterday at noon was the deadline for Murphy to sign into law any bills remaining on his desk from the prior session. He had already enacted 560 measures as of last Wednesday and signed several more in the interim. The addition of the bills signed yesterday will bring the number Murphy approved to more than 700 for the 2018-2019 legislative session.

The bills signed yesterday run the gamut of just about every issue that has been of concern to Murphy or Democratic lawmakers over the governor’s first two years in office. The greatest number of bills signed were in the areas of health care and hospitals, businesses and employee concerns, the environment, higher education and the social safety net.

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Perhaps the highest-profile measure Murphy penned made New Jersey the first state to permanently ban flavored vape products, including menthol. The bill (S-3265), was based on a recommendation from the Electric Smoking Device Task Force, which Murphy created by executive order four months ago after health officials identified serious pulmonary illnesses and one death in New Jersey related to vaping.

“Research shows that flavored electronic smoking devices and products, such as mint, candy, fruit, and chocolate, are extremely appealing, especially to children,” Murphy said in a statement on signing the bill. He said the new law “will protect both youth and adults from the hazards of flavored electronic smoking device use.”

Make vaping less palatable to young

Several sponsors of the new law said the ban is especially important to make vaping less palatable to youth.

“Our state cannot and will not ignore the widespread use of these harmful nicotine products among adolescents,” said Assemblyman Herb Conaway (D-Burlington). “Flavored products are designed to attract young people, which is one of the reasons why most traditional cigarette flavors were banned a decade ago. Getting flavored vaping products off the market will protect our youth. If we don’t, we will have another generation of young people addicted to nicotine when we were so close to reducing widespread dependency on this chemical.”

Murphy also signed into law S-1647, which bans the sale of flavored vaping products and the use of coupons to purchase tobacco and vapor products in New Jersey.

“By banning the use of these methods of price reduction and therefore making them more difficult for young people to purchase, we can help limit the appeal and accessibility of vaping products in order to protect them,” said Assemblyman Daniel Benson (D-Mercer). “We’ve seen coupons proliferate the use of cigarettes in the past. We do not want to see them encourage more children to vape.”

But Murphy did not sign A-5922, which was also based on recommendations from his task force. That bill sought to impose new barriers to under-age sales, cap the amount of nicotine in vape liquids at 2%, create a statewide tracking system for all e-cigarette products, boost the licensing fee for vape shops, and require retailers to install electronic systems to help verify that all customers are 21 or older.

Murphy explained his reasoning in a signing statement  to the flavor vaping products ban that he did sign, saying the bill offered only a “piecemeal approach to a problem that requires a comprehensive solution” and did not include the overhaul of the vapor business licensing system that he wanted.

“My office strongly suggested that the Legislature consider reworking the current tax scheme, which is unnecessarily complicated and favors certain players in the marketplace, and conveyed our concerns to the Legislature about the bill’s inconsistent treatment of different vaping retailers and manufacturers,” he wrote. “I look forward to working with the Legislature in this new legislative session to determine best practices for regulating the vaping industry and hope that we can reach a result that treats all affected entities fairly, protects the health of New Jersey residents, and penalizes the bad actors in the vaping marketplace.”

Prescription drug bill

Another health-related bill Murphy signed (A-2431) requires health insurers to provide plans that limit patient cost-sharing concerning prescription drug coverage. Lawmakers concurred with Murphy’s conditional veto of the bill at their last voting session. Murphy said it will improve affordability and help limit out-of-pocket prescription drug expenses for New Jersey families.

“Few issues have a greater financial impact on New Jersey families than the unpredictable and ever-increasing cost of prescription drugs,” Murphy said in a statement. “Cost-sharing too often presents a barrier to a patient’s ability to access medically-necessary treatments. This legislation will improve the affordability of medical care for many residents who unfortunately must make sacrifices in order to pay for their required medications.”

‘Yes’ to one sexual assault bill, ‘no’ to another

Murphy had conflicting views of two bills remaining from a package introduced following legislative hearings into a sexual assault allegation by one Murphy campaign volunteer against another and the way that was handled. The governor had previously signed five of those measures and yesterday he enacted another, A-5630, which requires the state Civil Service Commission to establish a telephone hotline for state employees to confidentially report incidents of workplace harassment or discrimination.

But Murphy did not sign A-5629. That bill would allow a state worker to tell others about a complaint of discrimination or harassment that the worker filed. Currently, these complaints are required to be kept confidential. In a signing statement accompanying A-5630, Murphy said he could not also sign this bill because it would also require the person handling the complaint to inform the person against whom the complaint was made of its existence within 30 days. He said informing an alleged perpetrator of a complaint in this way “jeopardizes the safety and security of employees alleging discrimination or harassment.”

The governor also signed three bills related to elections and democracy: S-589, which will create an online voter registration system; S-758, which requires incarcerated people to be counted at a prior residential address for legislative redistricting purposes; and A-4564, which mandates the posting online of all election district, county district, and municipal ward boundary data, along with matching election results data.

“Some states do a great job of providing precinct-level election results, others do a great job of providing precinct geographies. However, most states don’t compile either, and the few that do, don’t do so in a way that is standardized,” said Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex), who sponsored the election district transparency law. “Currently, New Jersey is one of the states that doesn’t compile and release them all. This new law would change that and indeed, would make New Jersey a leader in transparency about election data.”

ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha praised Murphy for signing the three measures.

“These three laws offer promise to make our democracy more representative at a time when the principle of ‘one person, one vote’ has come under assault, and racially biased voting laws are being advanced nationwide,” he said. “Tearing down barriers and modernizing registration, shining a light into the electoral process, and allocating representation accurately are important steps toward a fairer, freer system of democracy.”

Lottery winners

Murphy signed another bill that reduces transparency over lottery winnings. The measure (S-2267) creates a new exemption from the state’s Open Public Records Act for lottery winners. After sitting idle for most of the session, the bill passed quickly without opposition in the last days of the lame-duck session.

“With lottery winners being very susceptible targets of crime, from blackmail to kidnapping or worse, it only makes sense to enact legislation that challenges the status quo to better safeguard their anonymity,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union), a sponsor of the bill. “New Jersey lottery winners should be able to enjoy their winnings without the bombardment of press and other prying eyes that naturally follow when their identity is revealed.”

A new ‘state dog’

While not as serious as most of the other bills enacted, it is worth noting that New Jersey now also has a “state dog” with Murphy’s signing of S-2849, giving that distinction to the Seeing Eye dog.

Though they seem innocuous enough, bills designating state symbols can be some of the most contentious. Competing elementary school classes have fought for lawmakers’ votes for their favorites in the past. It took two legislative sessions for Streptomyces griseus to win the designation of state microbe.

A prior effort to name the “adoptable dog” the state dog failed. Yet lawmakers voted quickly and without opposition to designate the Seeing Eye dog as the state dog in the lame duck session. It could have been because four main breeds are trained to be Seeing Eye dogs — German shepherds, Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, and Labrador/golden crosses — so the bill appealed to lovers of a host of breeds. More likely, the bill’s passage was a tribute to Sen. Anthony Bucco, the former Morris County Republican legislator who died in office last September. He had sponsored the bill to honor The Seeing Eye organization, which is headquartered in his district in Morristown. Bucco’s son Anthony M. Bucco, who had sponsored the bill in the Assembly, assumed Senate sponsorship when he won a county committee election to fill out his father’s unexpired term.

“My father and I shared a passion for the work of The Seeing Eye organization and its mission to increase the independence of those who are blind and visually impaired,” Bucco said. “This was one of the last bills that we worked on together prior to his passing. I couldn’t think of a more fitting tribute to my father than the signing of this legislation which encapsulates his deeply held belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to live with dignity and respect.”

The full list of Murphy’s legislative action is available on his website.

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