Airbnb Regulation Bill Advances in NJ

JT Aregood, Observer NJ Politics

New Jersey took a step toward allowing its cities to regulate or effectively ban the use of Airbnb Monday, with a bill aiming to ban rental agreements shorter than 30 days advancing in committee. The service, which allows app users to rent out their homes or apartments to travelers for even one-night stays, is currently unregulated in the state.

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, called the current lack of regulation a threat to public safety after its successful 7-0 vote in the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee.

“The current practices of short-term rental businesses lack the necessary safety precautions for our municipalities,” Vainieri Huttle said. “We want residents and tourists to enjoy the options provided by companies like Airbnb, but not at the expense of neighbors who live there on a permanent basis. This legislation creates a baseline registry that municipalities can implement as they see fit.”
The measure would allow municipalities to prohibit property owners from offering their space as accomodation for a period of 30 days or less if it serves as their primary residence.

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Airbnb, vaping bills advance in N.J. Legislature

Nicholas Pugliese, NorthJersey.com

An Assembly tourism panel advanced a pair of bills Monday that would impose new taxes and regulations on short-term housing rentals such as those provided through the online marketplaces Airbnb and FlipKey.

More than a dozen other legislative committees also considered measures covering topics ranging from college fees and vaping to psychiatric beds and a designer drug known as “flakka.”

Airbnb is the most prominent of numerous online services that allow people to rent out a room in their home or their entire residence to tourists, business people and other travelers on a short-term basis. Advocates say the services gives property owners a form of supplemental income while also expanding lodging options available to travelers.

Critics of the services, however, say that the short-term-rental industry is hurting hotels and the housing market, and officials in more than a dozen municipalities in North Jersey have moved since July to restrict short-term rentals over concerns that they were eroding the quality of life in some neighborhoods.

More than 6,000 New Jersey residents hosted 257,000 guests using Airbnb in 2016, a press secretary for the company said Monday, and 325,000 residents used the service to travel domestically and abroad.

A bill sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, and Annette Quijano, D-Union, would impose the same sales and use taxes on short-term rentals as imposed on other hotels and motels in the state.

Peter Schottenfels, a press secretary for Airbnb, testified in favor of the legislationMonday. He said the company has “voluntary collection agreements” with more than 230 jurisdictions around the world, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Jersey City, and that the bill would have generated $6 million in state and local taxes in New Jersey had it been in effect in 2016.

The Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee approved the bill Monday by a 5-2 vote.

separate bill sponsored by Huttle goes further and seeks to establish a statewide regulatory framework for short-term rentals where none currently exists. It would codify that municipalities are authorized to prohibit such rentals and would require anyone who wants to offer a short-term rental to first register with their municipality, among other restrictions.

“The current practices of short-term rental businesses lack the necessary safety precautions for our municipalities,” Huttle said in a statement after the same Assembly panel voted unanimously to advance the bill.

Schottenfels, on the other hand, testified that the bill would “usurp local control by imposing a top-down solution” and called it “a solution in search of a problem.”

Senate versions of the bills have not been introduced.

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Airbnb regulation bill passes Assembly panel

John Brennan, NorthJersey.com

Legislation sponsored by Bergen County Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle intended to address the lack of regulation in short-term rental properties by online marketplaces such as Airbnb was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

Several Bergen County municipalities have adopted ordinances requiring a minimum stay of 30 days, effectively banning transient rentals. The bill would codify that municipalities are authorized to approve such ordinances, while also creating a licensing and regulatory scheme.

“The current practices of short-term rental businesses lack the necessary safety precautions for our municipalities,” said Vainieri Huttle. “We want residents and tourists to enjoy the options provided by companies like Airbnb, but not at the expense of neighbors who live there on a permanent basis. This legislation creates a baseline registry that municipalities can implement as they see fit.”

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Funds to market low-income nutrition program used for Christie drug ads

Dustin Racioppi, NorthJersey.com

Television and radio ads featuring Governor Christie promoting a drug addiction hotline and website are partially paid for with money intended to increase the number of low-income women and children who are eligible for nutrition counseling, breastfeeding education and immunization screening, according to documents obtained by The Record.

That federally funded program, the state's Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, is more commonly referred to as WIC. It also provides low-income families with resources to buy certain foods and offers health care support.

When The Record and NorthJersey.com requested, through the Open Public Records Act, a copy of the contract the state is using to fund the drug hotline and website advertising, Christie's office provided a copy of the contract for the WIC promotion, a $1.5 million deal in 2014 with marketing agency Princeton Partners.

The goal of the WIC campaign, according to the state's request for proposal, was "to increase the total number of eligible pregnant and postpartum women (breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding), infants and children enrolled statewide with NJ WIC Services."

When Christie launched the television and radio ads last month to promote the addiction website and hotline, known as "Reach NJ," his office said it was being paid for by an existing public announcement contract held by the state, and not a new cost to the general budget. But the office did not specify which contract it was referring to and declined to say how much the new ads cost.

The governor's office and the Department of Health declined to answer questions in repeated requests for details about the contract, instead referring to the contract documents. Jeff Chesebro, president of Princeton Partners, which produced the Reach NJ ads, also did not respond to requests for information.

After the story was published Monday on NorthJersey.com, Christie's office responded that the opioid campaign "has absolutely no connection" to the WIC program, despite the contract documents the administration provided. The office stressed that no money for the WIC program itself was being used for the opioid campaign. It did not specify how the ad campaign was being paid for, only that it was using "existing funds in the state budget."

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Worry Over Trump’s Reversal of Transgender Student Bathroom Policy

Briana Vannozzi, NJTV News

“My daughter is a girl. She deserves equal and safe access to schools and education just like anybody else,” said mother Jamie Bruesehoff.

But Bruesehoff is concerned protections for her 10-year-old trans daughter Rebecca may be in jeopardy with the Trump administration’s reversal of an Obama-era directive allowing transgender students to use bathrooms and facilities of their choice in public schools.

“The district we’re in has an excellent policy for transgender students that affirms and supports her and that’s why she’s thriving because she can go to school and be herself. And she says, ‘I don’t think about being transgender at school, I think about doing my work and hanging out with my friends and I’m just a girl.’ Without those protections she couldn’t do that,” Bruesehoff said.

It’s considered a major step for conservative groups who felt the federal government had no right interfering in the matter. The Obama administration threatened to withhold funding for schools that didn’t comply. This new policy leaves it to states and individual school districts to create their own rules. Currently 12 New Jersey school districts have guidelines in place, but another 600 do not.

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Bergen County Officials Attend Ribbon Cutting of Fort Lee Home for Disabled Individuals

The Paramus Post

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HACKENSACK- On February 14, 2017, Bergen County Officials attended a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony in honor of a new housing project for residents with disabilities. The project, located on Inwood Terrace in Fort Lee, is a product of a partnership between the Bergen County’s United Way and the Madeline Corporation. The housing will serve as a safe home for people with special needs to improve the quality of their lives.

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NJ Democrats Respond to Trump Reversal on Transgender Rights

JT Aregood, Observer New Jersey Politics

Following news that the administration of President Donald Trump has reversed course on protections for transgender public school students, New Jersey Democrats are voicing their opposition to the change. The decision will make it so that federal agencies including the Department of Justice are not actively encouraged to enforce civil rights protections for transgender students who are not allowed access to the bathroom corresponding to the gender with which they identify.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement that the guidelines, put in place under Barack Obama, “did not contain sufficient legal analysis or explain how the interpretation was consistent with the language of Title IX,” the federal law that mandates equal protection regardless of gender.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri-Huttle, who has introduced a legislative package that would establish a legislative task force on transgender rights in the state and prohibit health insurers from denying coverage to transgender patients, called the scaling back of enforcement a danger for students who face discrimination.

“Transgender students already face disproportionate levels of bullying and discrimination in public schools. I am gravely disappointed that they no longer have an ally in the White House,” Vainieri-Huttle said. “The antiquated policies put forth by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are continuing to cause chaos and trample on our civil rights.”

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State must step in after Trump kills transgender rules in schools, NJEA says

Kelly Heyboer, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

New Jersey's largest teachers union called on the state education commissioner Thursday to restore some protections for transgender students after the Trump administration revoked federal guidelines.

Trump's education and justice departments released a letter earlier this week that reversed the Obama administration's position that schools must allow transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Instead, the Trump administration said the issue should be left to state and local officials.

The New Jersey Education Association, the union representing the majority of the state's teachers, slammed the Trump administration's withdrawal of federal protections for transgender students and called on the state education department to step in with new rules for New Jersey schools.

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Vainieri Huttle Vows to Press Forward with Bills to Protect Transgender Community in the Wake of Trump Administration’s Policy Reversal

Insider NJ

TRENTON) – Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) issued the following statement Thursday on the Trump administration’s decision to revoke certain federal protections for transgender students:

“On Wednesday, President Trump effectively turned his back on our brothers and sisters in the transgender community by revoking federal protections that had recently been put into place.

“The antiquated policies put forth by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions are continuing to cause chaos and trample on our civil rights. Rather than making America Great again, it’s giving America license to hate again.

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Stop the hostility toward N.J.'s transgender community | Editorial

Times of Trenton Editorial Board

A package of bills working its way through the state Legislature recognizes a grim reality: In a recent nationwide survey, more than half of all transgender students report they have been harassed at school, and nearly one-third of transgender employees say they have lost their jobs or been demoted because of their identity.

The Assembly Human Services Committee recently heard testimony from witnesses who shared harrowing tales of discrimination at school, in the workplace and in the doctor's office. Then members approved four measures addressing such matters as health insurance and social services for transgender individuals.

One proposal would update the Garden State's health insurance laws that would bar commercial plans and Medicaid from denying services on the basis of gender identity or expression, NJ Spotlight reported.

Another would to create a task force to help identify and reduce barriers to equal treatment - legal and societal - for transgender individuals and their families.

Sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) and her colleague Tim Eustace (D-Passaic), the bills come at a time when the transgender community faces an increasingly hostile environment in a Republican-led administration.

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