N.J. lawmakers are set to vote on state budget, gun reform, and abortion protection. Here’s what you should know

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

New Jersey lawmakers are set to vote on more than 100 bills before their summer recess begins later this week — including the state’s budget for the 2023 fiscal year.

On Wednesday, they’ll also take up a controversial gun control package, a pair of bills that expand abortion protections in the state, and a measure some lawmakers said will make schools safer in the wake of recent mass shootings.

N.J. budget includes surplus of over $9 billion

Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature, unveiled the $50.6 billion budget proposal after 8 p.m. Monday night after a long day of committee hearings.

The budget was approved along party lines by both the Senate and Assembly budget committees within a half-hour after it was made public.

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It includes a $2 billion property tax rebate program that expands upon the existing Homestead rebate, a 10-day tax holiday on school supplies set to go into effect later this summer, and other measures that proponents said would combat the state’s affordability crisis.

The state has a historic surplus of more than $9 billion at its disposal, and over the past few months, Gov. Phil Murphy and Democratic leaders hashed out much of the budget’s details in backroom meetings, with many criticizing a lack of transparency in the days leading up to Wednesday’s vote.

The spending bill was not posted to the Legislature’s website until late Monday evening, after committee hearings on the matter concluded.

The New Jersey Policy Perspective released a statement decrying the process.

“New Jersey’s budget-making process is fundamentally broken, and this year was even worse than usual. This was yet another last-minute budget cooked up in a back room with no opportunity for residents, reporters, advocates, or even some lawmakers to analyze the document, let alone read it before it was voted on,” said Nicole Rodriguez, New Jersey Policy Perspective’s president.

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“Lawmakers could have released their budget proposal before the eleventh hour, held public hearings on how to spend the state’s record surplus and federal aid, and publicly released their budget resolutions,” Rodriguez’s statement continued. “Instead, chaos and backroom deals ruled the day, with 60 budget bills introduced at the last minute, some added to and removed from the agenda with no notice, no bill texts available, and no chance for residents to meaningfully weigh in on billions of dollars worth of spending.”

Voting on gun reform

The full legislature will also vote on about half a dozen gun reform measures on Wednesday.

Legislation to be considered includes measures that would raise the minimum age to obtain a firearm from 18 to 21 in certain cases, require gun owners who move to New Jersey from out of state to register their firearms within 60 days, and ban most .50 caliber rifles and the possession of body armor by most residents.

Other bills include legislation that would regulate the sale of ammunition, and require firearm dealers to sell microstamping-enabled firearms at the discretion of the state Attorney General.

New Jersey already has some of the strictest gun restrictions in the nation, and for the past year Murphy has pushed for lawmakers to pass stronger gun control legislation.

Kaison Little is a lead organizer for Black Lives Matter in Elizabeth, a predominantly Black and Latino city plagued by gun violence. He called the package “weak” as it relates to addressing the root causes of shootings. Instead he called for more direct investment into communities affected by gun violence, and for voices of marginalized communities to be amplified.

“We’ve lost a lot of young people due to gun violence,” Little said. “We have lost a lot of older people who’ve been impacted by gun violence that still have not sought accountability or justice for their preventative losses.”

This year, Elizabeth has consistently ranked in the top five New Jersey cities for reported shooting incidents, averaging about 13 cases per month between January and May, according to State Police data.

Little also believes the state budget allocates too much money to the state’s police force. The Black Lives Matter movement has consistenly called for governments to “defund the police” since the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Minnesota Black man who was killed by police in the summer of 2020.

“We need to try new things. And people have been saying that for far too long. Stop investing in the same strategies…that just benefits the old establishment playbook. We need to invest in making sure that we are healing generations of trauma,” Little said.

Expanding abortion protections

The fight over abortion rights reached what many have called an inflection point, after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last Friday.

In anticipation of the conservative-leaning court’s ruling, Murphy signed a law in January that codified the right to an abortion in New Jersey.

Now lawmakers want to do more to protect people who come to New Jersey seeking one.

On Wednesday, they’ll vote on two bills related to abortion: one that would prohibit people from out of state who come to New Jersey for reproductive health services (including abortion) from being extradited back to states where abortion is illegal, and another that would prevent New Jersey residents from being criminally or civilly liable for performing an abortion in violation of another state’s law.

Jaye Wilson, founder of Melinated Moms, a community-based organization that aids people in the prenatal process supports both pieces of legislation.

“The need for protection in maternal health care just got 100 times harder. For years, women and birthing people have struggled to have body autonomy, and historically our ability to have a say so in our care has been struck down by men who have no ability to carry children,” Wilson said. “As a woman who has experienced traumatic birthing experiences, I’ve learned there are so many factors that lean into why this decision may be a shocker for some, but if we look at history, it shouldn’t be. Women and birthing people still have policies that prevent them from choosing their pathways to parenthood.”

Voting sessions begin at 1 p.m. on Wednesday. The public can attend in person at the statehouse in Trenton, or watch the proceedings live on the Legislature’s website.

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