The 219th Session of the New Jersey Legislature started on January 14, 2020 with the reorganization of the Legislature and the Governor’s State of the State Address.
The General Assembly welcomed seven new members, with Democrats still retaining a significant 52-28 majority. Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) retained his post for another two-year term, as did Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-6) and Minority Leader John Bramnick (R-21). The State Senate is also controlled by the Democratic Party with a 25-15 majority. Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) became the longest-serving Senate President in New Jersey history, starting his sixth term as leader of the Senate. Senator Tom Kean (R-21) returns as Senate Minority Leader for another term.
In their respective speeches, legislative leaders struck similar messages of unity, compromise, and improving the quality of life for all residents. Senate President Sweeney focused on school funding, higher education, water quality, and the need for improvements to New Jersey Transit. Speaker Coughlin and Majority Leader Greenwald highlighted their priorities which included water quality, as well as tax reform and affordability, behavioral health, and food insecurity. Assembly Republican Leader Bramnick took a different approach and specifically addressed cooperation, and condemned hate and violence at all levels. He did, however, put forth a proposal to cap legislative spending increases at two percent annually, similar to the cap that municipalities are subject to.
Any bills that the Legislature did not act on and the Governor did not sign into law during the 218th Legislative Session expire and must be re-introduced in the new session. In addition to the identified legislative leadership priorities, some high-profile bills that did not become law last session will likely reappear in the new session. These include regulations on plastic bags, reforms to the Open Public Records Act, and childhood immunization requirements.
State of the State Address
Governor Murphy’s State of the State speech hit three major themes: investments in the middle class, restoring fiscal responsibility, and changing the culture of government. In each of these areas, the Governor identified his major accomplishments from the past two years, noting that the progress was not in spite of a progressive agenda, but because of that agenda. For the upcoming year and legislative session, the Governor’s highest priorities include:
- Establishing an Office of Health Care Affordability and Transparency to work across state agencies and lead critical efforts to reduce consumer health care costs, make insurance more affordable, and improve price transparency.
- Integration of behavioral and physical health care, especially for young people, to better identify and treat issues like anxiety, depression, addiction, and suicide.
- Addressing wealth disparity and determining its root causes through the establishment of a new task force.
- Finalization of the new Energy Master Plan to accomplish the goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
- Elimination of lead in drinking water and remediation of buildings with lead paint.
- Reducing public sector health care costs without reducing the quality of coverage.
- Imposition of a millionaire’s tax to direct funds to school funding and property tax relief.
- Launch of “Jobs NJ” to align our education system to meet the future needs of both employers and workers, and match workers with potential employers.
- Reaching a consensus with legislative leaders on a “targeted and responsible” economic incentive system.
- Continuing improvements to NJ Transit.
- Ethics reforms to strengthen financial disclosures, tighten pay-to-play requirements, and expand transparency.
The Governor also spoke about the “longstanding culture” of “pernicious sexism and abuse” that surrounds government. He asked those in government and elsewhere to speak up and speak out whenever injustices occur, and to not ignore the behavior of others.
The full text of the Governor’s State of the State address can be found here. The Legislature begins its first set of committee hearings for the new session on January 27th.