Students are better able to succeed when they are comfortable in their education environment. Harassment, intimidation, and bullying prevent children and adolescents from reaching their full potential because they are afraid to go to school, participate in extracurricular activities, and explore new opportunities.
I sponsored the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the toughest and most comprehensive anti-bullying law in the nation, so that students can feel safe to learn and thrive. The law requires schools to proactively prevent bullying and quickly and appropriately respond to incidents. It enables school districts to address bullying on and off school grounds, including the internet and social media.
I also sponsored a law to create the New Jersey Anti-Bullying Task Force to monitor the implementation of the law and make sure that it is working to protect students and enhance the entire school community. The law is now in its second year of implementation, and districts and families have reported that bullying is finally being addressed in our community.
While some may think that human trafficking only occurs in developing nations, war zones, or impoverished regions, it happens right here in New Jersey and in District 37. Working with the New Jersey Coalition against Human Trafficking and national experts, I sponsored the Human Trafficking Prevention, Protection, and Treatment Act.
This new law gives law enforcement the tools they need to prevent and prosecute perpetrators and helps victims become survivors. During the recent Super Bowl, the law supported advocates raising awareness about sex and labor trafficking that occurs during large-scale sporting events and helped security officials detect signs of trafficking.
Port Authority Reform
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has been out of control for decades. It operates critical transportation infrastructure, including the George Washington Bridge, and oversees a budget of $7 billion, which is larger than the budget of 26 states combined. Yet, it is unclear how those funds are spent or whether the public interest is truly served.
Last year, I sponsored bipartisan, bistate legislation to reform the Port Authority, the PANYNJ Transparency and Accountability Act.
Governor Christie vetoed this important reform measure. I have reintroduced it to bring change to the Port Authority. If it becomes
law, the Port Authority would be subject to an annual independent audit, finance, governance, and audit committees would be established, commissioners would be required to be trained and submit financial disclosures, and the public would have a real opportunity to participate in toll-hike discussions.
As we have seen recently, the Port Authority is a political patronage mill that operates in the shadows, without any meaningful oversight. I am committed to changing the culture of the PANYNJ so that commuters and fare-payers are put first.
Special Needs Advocacy
It has been said that the moral test of government is how it treats its most vulnerable. When the new legislative session began a few weeks ago, I was reappointed to Chair the Assembly Human Services Committee. My mission is to make sure that New Jersey meets that test and fulfills its obligation to protect and support individuals with special needs and their families.
In recent years, we have made progress in how our state treats individuals with disabilities. We now have a registry of caretakers
who abuse clients, require the Department of Human Services to provide greater information to families on available services and programs as they make long-term plans, and have greater oversight of community care residences. We have even made efforts to reduce the stigma by removing the word "retarded" from state statutes.
Yet, as family members and advocates know, there is still so much more we must do for the special needs community. This session I will focus on pressing issues such as creating more sustainable supportive housing and wrap-around programs, preventing abuse and neglect, expanding special education services, bringing mental health to the forefront, and helping senior citizens age in place.
Economic Development in District 37
District 37 has the potential to be an economic hub for Bergen County and Northern New Jersey. The district has diverse and energetic communities, historic downtown areas, and cultural centers, such as the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood.
I have long advocated for the extension of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail Line into Bergen County. As the project enters a new phase of development, I am working with federal, state, and local officials to bring District 37 onto the line and finally make this a reality for our community.
I am also actively working to increase funding for the arts and tourism because those dollars can have significant economic impact for our region. As a member of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, I have seen that investing in the arts and cultural initiatives helps revitalize downtowns, boosts related businesses, and brings in tourists. District 37 offers so much to see and do, and I want to make sure our community has the support to promote these attractions.
New Jersey is called the Garden State because it is rich natural resources and farmland. Our state must preserve that for future
generations by continuing to protect environmentally sensitive lands in the Highlands and Pinelands, find a stable funding source for Open Space, and address climate change. I have sponsored numerous bills to further these goals and preserve our environment in New Jersey.
I also support initiates to promote renewable energy and smart growth, including tax credits for businesses and development that utilize green technology. This is no only good for our environment but for our economy as well.