Help N.J. be green by rejoining regional greenhouse gas plan | Editorial

Times of Trenton Editorial Board

Even as the Trump Administration sets its sights on utterly destroying the federal Environmental Protection Agency, lawmakers in New Jersey hope to nudge the state back into a multi-state program designed to curb carbon pollution from power plants.

Since its launch in 2005, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has served as an auction to sell and trade carbon dioxide emission credits to large-scale polluters, with proceeds supporting energy-efficient programs throughout the Northeast.

Sadly, since 2011, it has done so without the participation of the Garden State.

With dreams of the White House dancing in his head, Gov. Chris Christie pulled us out of the collaborative early in his first term - even as the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners found the state's participation in RGGI had created 1,772 jobs and generated some $151 million in revenues.

This week, the state Assembly voted to require the state to rejoin the agreement, via legislation sponsored by Assembly members Tim Eustace (D-Bergen), Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and Andrew Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset).

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NJ Lawmaker Calls for Hearing After I-Team Reveals Lack of Required Highway Signs

Pei-Sze Cheng, NBC News 4 New York

A New Jersey lawmaker is calling for a legislative hearing a day after an I-Team investigation exposed a lack of required highway signs in the state.

“I was outraged,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle, deputy speaker of the New Jersey legislature and vice chair of the Assembly transportation committee.

“This is basic maintenance, it doesn’t cost a lot of money and it should be corrected,” she said.
On Tuesday, the I-Team highlighted the lack of signage on major highways in New Jersey, like on Route 4 and Route 46.

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New law covers some infertility treatments for LGBT couples

Joan Quigley, The Jersey Journal

It seems pretty simple. If, after trying hard for many months, you can't become pregnant, you are probably infertile. Or your partner is.

But wait a minute. According to most insurance policies, you have to be in a two-sex relationship to meet their standards for treatment of infertility. If you are single or in a same-sex relationship you won't meet the definition of "infertile" regardless of your inability to reproduce.

I don't think there's a standard definition for "outta luck" but that's what you probably are if you are single or in a same-sex marriage or partnership and hope to have a biological child but can't pay thousands of dollars for infertility treatments or in vitro fertilization.

Who knew?

Apparently, a whole bunch of New Jersey legislators knew and did something about it. They went as far as they could. Assemblywoman Valerie Vaineri-Huttle, D-Bergen, explained the recently enacted bill requires the State Health Benefits Program and the School Employees Health Benefit Plan to offer expanded coverage for infertility-related health benefits. They had to redefine "infertility" to get that done.

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In N.J., Airbnb may not always be tax-free

Samantha Marcus, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

A bill to treat and tax such online short-term rental marketplaces as Airbnb like other hotels and motels passed the state Assembly on Monday.

The bill's sponsors say these "transient accommodations" have enjoyed special status in New Jersey, while more traditional lodging providers are regulated and subject to taxes.

"We can't allow rules to apply to one business but not another when they essentially provide the same services," Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), a sponsor, said in a statement. "Accommodations booked through sites like Airbnb are used like hotel rooms. They should be subject to the same obligation."

Such marketplaces have gained popularity in recent years, allowing people to list and book apartments, houses, villas, and even castles throughout the world for a night, a week, or a month. The most famous, Airbnb, boasts listings in 65,000 cities and 191 countries.

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Bill seeks real-time tracking system for psychiatric bed availability

Anjalee Khemlani, NJBIZ

Gov. Chris Christie called for more psychiatric beds in February, a need that has mushroomed from closures of psychiatric hospitals over the years and has been exacerbated by the opioid epidemic.

These beds are increasingly important as the state battles the addiction crisis, searching for more medical facilities to handle proper detoxification and treatment.

Christie called for nearly 900 new beds in the state, a number which some have said may not be attainable.

Related legislation approved in the full Assembly is now making its way through the state Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblymen Gary Schaer (D-Passaic), Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) and Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), as well as Assemblywomen Angela McKnight (D-Jersey City) and Valeri Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood), calls for a real-time system to track availability of beds in the state.

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Mother Fights New Jersey to Return Disabled Daughter to New Hampshire Facility

Brenda Flanagan, NJTV News

You don’t notice Jennifer Sullivan’s autism, at first. Her sunny personality conceals the physical tics and childlike repetitions. But the 27-year-old functions on a 5-year-old’s level, and her mom, Joan, says Jennifer’s behavior has deteriorated significantly since New Jersey officials compelled her to leave an out-of-state treatment facility.

“I was shocked. I didn’t think it would be this bad. She’s eating with her hands, she’s interrupting, she’s not listening to other people. These are things that she never did at Plowshare Farm,” Joan said.

Plowshare Farm is a residential center in New Hampshire for people with developmental disabilities. Jennifer moved there at age 19 and thrived in the structured environment, her mom says — worked in the kitchen, made friends, helped with farm animals.

“She was hiking and biking and visiting friends and social. They were well trained, so if there ever was any kind of a behavior problem, the directors lived there as well and they were there to answer any problems or counsel people on how to deal with her,” Joan said.

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GOVERNOR SIGNS LAW CALLING FOR OVERSIGHT OF MENTAL HEALTH PAYMENT REFORM

Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

New Jersey will appoint independent monitors to oversee its payment-reform process for community mental health providers, an ongoing transformation that has prompted concerns about the impact it could have on local programs and their patients.

Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation on Thursday that would establish an advisory board to monitor the fee-for-service transition, determine if the state’s payment rates are appropriate, and make recommendations for future reforms. The law also requires the state Department of Human Services, which is in charge of the process, to hire an independent contractor to evaluate the shift and report back to the Legislature on a regular basis.

Advocates eagerly welcomed the news, but noted that oversight alone won’t protect some providers or their vulnerable patients, many of whom suffer significant mental illnesses and cycle between state hospitals, correctional facilities, and local shelters. They have predicted the reform will leave some organizations with multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls and could imperil treatment for 20,000 people.

‘Half of the solution’

“This is a very positive step, yet only half of the solution,” said Debra Wentz, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, which has led opposition to the reform.

While he approved the measure, Christie used the opportunity to remind its Democratic sponsors that the reform has allowed New Jersey to tap into hundreds of millions of dollars in additional federal funding. He also stressed that the state is among the last in the nation to make the change from a system of annual contracts with community providers to one in which they are reimbursed by a set amount for specific services.

“Additionally, while I am signing this bill, I am not doing so in a vacuum,” Christie wrote in a message that accompanied his signature. In an effort to avoid duplication, he directed the DHS to revisit the information compiled by consultants hired six years ago to help craft a plan for the fee-for-service transition before it hired new consultants to review the process underway. “By doing so, I am seeking to ensure that this bill is being used appropriately to add value to the transition that has already benefited so many in this state,” he added.

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Measure to tax Airbnb, short-term rentals advances

Nicholas Pugliese, NorthJersey.com

Short-term housing rentals through Airbnb and other online marketplaces could soon be subject to the same taxes as hotels and motels in New Jersey, under a bill approved by the Assembly Budget Committee on Wednesday.

The measure would raise $6 million in revenue annually from Airbnb alone, according to an estimate from the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Services, but would also push up prices for people using the service by as much as 18 percent.

Another bill related to Airbnb that would require hosts to register with their municipality before listing a short-term rental was not considered Wednesday even though its sponsor said it was “gaining momentum.”

irbnb has become a controversial topic in New Jersey, where the company says there were roughly 6,000 active hosts who earned more than $50 million in 2016. Founded in 2008 and based in San Francisco, Airbnb now has more than 2.5 million users worldwide and values itself at $30 billion.

But its fast growth has been met with resistance from communities and its rivals in the hotel industry, who say the short-term-rental industry is hurting hotels and the housing market, as well as eroding the quality of life in neighborhoods.

Closter was the latest of several municipalities in North Jersey to ban rentals shorter than 30 days, citing quality-of-life concerns.

The bill that advanced Wednesday, A-4587, would not impose new restrictions on Airbnb and other “transient space marketplaces.” Rather, it would make rentals through those services subject, for the first time, to the state’s 6.875 sales and use tax and its 5 percent hotel and motel occupancy fee.

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Light rail on track

Hannington Dia, Hudson Reporter

New Jersey Transit held two public hearings on the planned Hudson-Bergen Light Rail extension into Bergen County on April 24. The project would add seven new stops to the existing service, all north along a 10-mile CSX railroad right of way, between 91st Street in North Bergen and Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. (Separately, the system also plans to add a stop in Jersey City off Route 440 near a proposed massive development.)

The system currently has 24 stations in Hudson County, through North Bergen, Union City, West New York, Weehawken, Hoboken, Jersey City, and Bayonne.Officials and residents convened on April 24 at the Crowne Plaza Englewood Hotel to give their thoughts on the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement, an overview of the seven-stop addition.

The stops won’t be built any time soon. NJ Transit estimates they would open at the earliest in 2029.

“I think the expansion of the light rail will only further help Northern Jersey and Jersey City continue th[eir] growth,” said Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who attended the hearing.

He noted, “We have seen unprecedented growth, over the last 15 years. Look at where the development pockets are; they mirror exactly the light rail stops through Jersey City. Thousands and thousands of units grow, because of the light rail.”

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Christie not following law he signed, says disabled woman's mom

Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

When Jennifer Sullivan lived on a farm in New Hampshire for two years, the 26-year-old petite woman with autism hiked, worked in a bakery and tended to lambs and cows. She ate fruits and vegetables. She liked to socialize.

After four years in a group home in Bridgewater, Jennifer has developed cavities and gum disease because she binges on junk food and doesn't like to brush her teeth, according to her mother, Joan Sullivan of Rutherford. When she is not at work organizing shopping bags at a supermarket, Jennifer typically refuses to leave her bedroom. She hits herself when she is agitated, her mother said.

Joan Sullivan has pleaded with the Christie administration to let Jennifer return to Plowshare Farm in Greenfield, N.H. a community for people with developmental disabilities. But the administration won't do it -- even though Gov. Chris Christie signed a law last year that ended the policy that forced Jennifer's return.

Halting the "Return Home New Jersey" policy allowed 370 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to remain in a home outside the state -- a victory for the dozens of families who convinced lawmakers the move would have been psychologically disruptive, and for some even medically risky.

Jennifer Sullivan is among the 170 the state transferred back from 2009 to 2015 when the policy was in effect. "Return Home" was created to save the state money and bring people closer to their families.

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