New Jersey Mom Victorious: Assembly Passes Expanded Child Rape Law

Rachel Martin and Cecilia Levine, Daily Voice 

HILLSDALE, N.J. -- A Hillsdale mom on Wednesday saw her seven years of hard work come to fruition when the state Assembly voted unanimously to amend Joan's Law.

Passed in 1997, Joan's Law mandates life without parole in murder cases involving sexual assault where the victims are younger than 14.

The amendment would expand the life-without-parole category to those who similarly victimize anyone younger than 18.

The Senate will now take up the measure.

"It was a tremendous amount of work, but it's really worth fighting for," Rosemarie D'Alessandro told Daily Voice, "and we'll continue until it's passed."

"A minor is a minor, and we wanted to eliminate that discrepancy in the law," Rep. Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Englewood) said. She was one of the six primary sponsors of the amendment.

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N.J. Assembly votes to expand 'Joan's Law' in child sex crime cases

S.P. Sullivan, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

The state Assembly on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill expanding a state law requiring tough sentences for those convicted of raping and murdering children.

The measure (A373) would require life without parole for anyone convicted of the murder of a minor under the age of 18 during the commission of a sex crime.

Sponsored by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, the bill builds upon tough sanctions put in place by Joan's Law, which was passed in 1997 and requires life without parole in cases involving victims younger than 14.

The law is named in memory of Joan D'Alessandro, a 7-year-old from New Jersey who was raped and murdered after being kidnapped by a neighbor while selling Girl Scout cookies in 1973.

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NEW PUSH TO FIGHT DISCRIMINATION AGAINST NJ’S TRANSGENDER RESIDENTS

Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

Inequities in healthcare and insurance coverage are among the targets of a new package of legislation

With growing public consciousness of the challenges transgender individuals face, a pair of Democratic lawmakers wants to ensure New Jersey law protects all citizens — regardless of gender identity and expression — when it comes to health insurance coverage and key social services.

On Monday the Assembly Human Services committee approved a package of legislation that would create a task force to help the state identify and reduce “legal and societal barriers” to equity for transgender individuals and their families, raise awareness around ongoing discrimination toward them, and honor those who have been killed by anti-transgender violence. (Transgender people’s sense of personal identity — and gender — does not correspond with their birth sex.)

The legislation would also update the state’s health insurance laws to ensure that commercial plans — including those covering public workers and teachers — and Medicaid do not deny healthcare services on the basis of gender identity or expression. Four proposals in all were introduced Monday by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), who chairs the committee, and Assemblyman Tim Eustace (D-Passaic.)

“As you all know, New Jersey has been a leader in promoting civil rights for our citizens and I think it’s now time for the state to stand with transgender individuals and their families in their continued fight for equality,” Vainieri Huttle said. “There are a lot of antiquated attitudes and policies that have led to discrimination, unfair attitudes and violence toward the transgender community.”

Inspired by 9-year-old Joe Maldonado

Vainieri Huttle said she was inspired in part by the strength of 9-year-old Joe Maldonado who, earlier this month, became the first openly transgender Cub Scout in the nation. The youngster joined a Maplewood pack after he was banned from participating in a pack in Secaucus. “Let’s do our part to support Joe,” the assemblywoman said.

Witnesses who testified before the committee, including several who identified as transgender, described the regular discrimination they faced in school and at work. (According to the latest U.S. Transgender Survey, released in December, more than half transgender students report being harassed at school and 30 percent of transgender employees said they were fired or demoted because of their identity; nearly 40 percent experienced serious psychological distress in the previous month.)

Discrimination in healthcare can mean life or death. Aaron Protenza, director of programs with Garden State Equality, pointed to a national survey of 27,000 transgender individuals which showed one in four had routinely been denied care by physicians or insurance carriers. More than half were told they would not be covered for gender-reassignment surgery, even though experts agree it is a medically necessary procedure.

In addition, transgender individuals have five times the HIV rate of the population at large and are more likely to experience mental illness, with 40 percent attempting suicide at some point in their lifetimes, according to the survey. They also suffer from significant verbal and physical abuse — with nearly half facing sexual abuse. In 2015, 21 transgender individuals in the United States were murdered.

“This is the constant struggle — this is what we have to deal with,” explained Barbra “Babs” Casbar Siperstein, a board leader at Garden State Equality who became the first openly transgender member of the Democratic National Committee, in 2012. Siperstein told the committee of a transgender woman who died when she was denied care for prostate cancer and another woman who bled to death when medical personnel refused to treat her after they discovered male genitalia under her dress.

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NJ Legislator introduces package to insure Transgender civil rights

Out in Jersey 

North Jersey Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle hailed the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to include transgender scouts. The BSA move came just hours after she introduced legislative bills that will strengthen civil rights for transgender individuals in New Jersey.

“Now more than ever, we need to stand up for those who are being marginalized,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Antiquated policies and attitudes towards transgender individuals have led to discrimination, violence, depression and suicide. While tremendous strides have been made in recent years to advance equality for members of the ‘LGB’ community, much more still needs to be done to help protect our brothers and sisters in the ‘T’ community.”

The reversal of the Boy Scouts’ century-old policy was inspired largely by the case of a transgender North Jersey boy whom Vainieri Huttle had stood up for, recently introducing a measure urging the Boy Scouts to create a more inclusive membership policy.

The latest package of bills Vainieri Huttle introduced will solidify New Jersey’s position as a leader on transgender civil rights by establishing a task force to help advance equality for transgender residents, improving insurance coverage and making sure public records correctly reflect an individual’s gender identity.

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STATE DOUBLES RATE IT WILL PAY FOR MEDICATION MANAGEMENT, KEY DRUG ADDICTION SERVICE

Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight

Decision part of larger battle to stem tide of opioid addiction in New Jersey

State officials have doubled the reimbursement rate New Jersey will pay to doctors who provide a treatment that has proven particularly effective with many opiate addicts, the latest adjustment to an ongoing reform of how the government pays for behavioral health services for some of its poorest, most vulnerable patients.

The Department of Human Services, which oversees mental health and addiction programs, told provider organizations last Tuesday that psychiatrists could collect twice as much as they currently do for offering Medicaid patients medication management — a process of regular outpatient checkups for patients who are taking prescription drugs to quell cravings and withdrawal feelings related to opioid use.

The change also supports the state’s growing effort to tackle New Jersey’s epidemic of opiate addiction and came on the same day that Gov. Chris Christie announced the Department of Health would kick off a process to add nearly 900 psychiatric hospital beds, an effort to address a capacity crunch that experts said presents a major hurdle to those seeking to get clean.

The news of a higher medication-monitoring rate was welcomed by nonprofit provider groups who have said larger Medicaid payments are essential if they are going to stay solvent and continue to deliver housing, day programs, and other services to those with mental health and addiction issues. State officials issued a new payment schedule last summer, as part of the payment-reform process, but have tinkered with several key rates after providers raised concerns that the changes would leave them short.

Debra Wentz, president and CEO of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, called it a “great step forward,” and thanked staff at the state’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services for working with her members to protect these safety-net services and those they serve. She said the change “was the result not only of NJAMHAA and many of its members making their voices heard and echoed by other stakeholders, but by those voices being listened to and acted on by our colleagues at the various state offices.”

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Broad Package of Bills Introduced that will Strengthen Civil Rights for Transgender Individuals in New Jersey

Catherine Hecht, Jersey City Independent 

Vainieri Huttle Introduces Legislative Package to Solidify New Jersey’s Place as Leader in Transgender Civil Rights

Bills Unveiled on Same Day Boy Scouts Reverse Century Old Policy Prompted by North Jersey Boy

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle hailed the decision by the Boy Scouts of America to include transgender scouts, a move that came just hours after she introduced a broad package of bills on Monday, January 30 that will strengthen civil rights for transgender individuals in New Jersey.

“Now more than ever, we need to stand up for those who are being marginalized,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Antiquated policies and attitudes towards transgender individuals have led to discrimination, violence, depression and suicide. While tremendous strides have been made in recent years to advance equality for members of the ‘LGB’ community, much more still needs to be done to help protect our brothers and sisters in the ‘T’ community.”

The reversal of the Boy Scouts’ century-old policy was inspired largely by the case of a transgender North Jersey boy whom Vainieri Huttle had stood up for, recently introducing a measure urging the Boy Scouts to create a more inclusive membership policy.

The latest package of bills Vainieri Huttle introduced will help solidify New Jersey’s position as a leader on transgender civil rights by, among other things, establishing a task force to help advance equality for transgender residents, improving insurance coverage and making sure public records correctly reflect an individual’s gender identity.

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N.J. towns, state government move to regulate short-term rentals

Christopher Lang, NorthJersey.com

Short-term rentals offered through Airbnb, FlipKey and other websites have faced little in the way of regulation in the Garden State, but efforts to impose some kind of order on the industry appear to be picking up.

In North Jersey, at least 10 municipalities have approved policies placing tighter restrictions on short-term rentals since July, while others are debating whether to follow suit, concerned that the practice has had a negative impact on the quality of life in residential neighborhoods. The municipal laws require a minimum stay of 30 consecutive days; violating hosts face daily fines – as low as $250 in Woodcliff Lake and up to $2,000 in East Rutherford.

Lyndhurst moves on Airbnb ban

Lawmakers in Trenton, however, are taking a different tack, retooling a bill that would impose sales and use taxes on short-term rentals and pushing separate legislation that would create a host registry. Both represent an attempt, supporters say, to level the playing field between the home-sharing and hotel industries while creating new sources of revenue in the form of sales and occupancy taxes and fees that the state and municipal governments can collect on the stays.

“If you say Airbnb can’t take part in the state at all, or companies like that, you’re really limiting what people want,” said Shane Derris, chief of staff for Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-Union, the deputy majority leader and a co-sponsor of the bill that would allow the stays to be taxed. Airbnb, he added, “is popular because it’s needed and, [in] some places, because people just want it.”

Airbnb, founded in 2008 and based in San Francisco, now has more than 2.5 million users worldwide and values itself at $30 billion. While it has transformed the lodging landscape, its fast growth has been met with resistance from communities, states 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.

In a statement, an Airbnb spokesman, Peter Schottenfels, said: “We support efforts to help our host communities pay [their] fair share of taxes in New Jersey.”

N.J. bill seeks to regulate Airbnb-type rentals

In October, Fort Lee imposed a 30-day minimum stay for short-term rentals after borough officials found that some Airbnb guests were using hosts’ homes for large parties. Officials in Cresskill approved a similar restriction in August after fielding complaints, mostly about a home on Hillside Avenue. Last month, Ridgewood became the latest municipality to adopt a policy mandating a 30-day minimum stay, with daily fines of up to $1,000 for violators. The Lyndhurst council is also considering placing limits on short-term rentals, and plans to introduce an ordinance at an upcoming meeting.

“These are always tough decisions, because you certainly don’t want to deprive taxpayers and homeowners of the ability to generate income,” said Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee. “But you have to juggle that with quality-of-life issues. If you’re renting a house in Fort Lee, this isn’t the Caribbean; you’re doing it because you want access to New York City.”

In 2016, Bergen County Airbnb hosts earned a combined income of $2.3 million from about 10,000 guests, according to information provided by Airbnb. A typical host’s earnings were $5,100. The numbers were much lower in Passaic County, perhaps because most locations are a longer ride from New York. Airbnb reported that 2,200 guests visited the county in 2016, generating $369,000 in revenue for hosts, who earned an average of $1,730.

N.Y. enacts restrictions on Airbnb, with fines of up to $7,500

Hosts say that efforts to impose minimum stays and other restrictions on short-term rentals deprive them of a way of making money, and such moves also risk punishing responsible hosts for the misdeeds of a few.

“Airbnb has certainly helped me pay the taxes, [make] repairs on my home, upgrade my plumbing,” said Susanne Warfield of Ridgewood, who has rented out several rooms in her home for the last two years

Fort Lee council approves ban on short-term rentals

Warfield said she made $14,091 as a host last year. Since Ridgewood adopted its short-term-rental ordinance Jan. 11, she has been wondering how she will make up that lost income.

“Something has to be done, or I’ll move,” said Warfield, a 14-year village resident. “Do I go out and look for another job now? What do I do?”

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‘Zackhary’s Law,’ Chaparro bill to help solve hit-and-run cases, clears committee

John Heinis, Hudson County View

“Zackhary’s Law,” a bill introduced by Hoboken Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro (D-33) back in September to help law enforcement agencies solve hit-and-run cases, cleared the Assembly Appropriations Committee earlier today.

The legislation was sponsored by Chaparro and Assembly colleagues Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-37), Daniel Benson (D-14) and Angelica Jimenez (D-32) and it aims to establish an emergency alert system to help apprehend drivers responsible for fatal hit-and-run accidents.

The bill, known as Zackhary’s Law, commemorates the life of Zackhary Simmons, a 21-year-old man who died in Hoboken after being hit by a vehicle that fled the scene back in June.

“I hope this bill reminds drivers thinking of fleeing an accident that the whole state will be looking for you, and you will be caught,” Chaparro said in a statement.

“I want to thank the Simmons family for working so hard on this bill and sharing their time and inspiring this legislation to honor Zack and encourage other drivers to stop and help an injured person instead of cowardly fleeing a scene.”

The bill, A-4184, would establish an alert system to facilitate the apprehension of someone who knowingly flees the scene of a motor vehicle accident that results in another person’s death or serious bodily injury.

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Pet Store Reform Bill Goes To State Assembly For Vote

Daniel Hubbard, Paramus Patch

 A bill requiring New Jersey pet stores sell only cats and dogs from animal shelters and rescue organizations passed a state Assembly committee Monday.

The legislation revises the Pet Purchase Protection Act. The bill was drafted in response to the allegations of animal cruelty at Just Pups stores in Paramus and East Brunswick and the illegal sale of dogs from Fancy Pups in Avenel.

The Assembly's Appropriations Committee passed the bill 8-3. The Assembly could vote on the bill as early as Feb. 9, the Legislature's Office of Public Information confirmed Tuesday.

"Consumers need to know that they are purchasing a healthy pet and this is the first step in ensuring that," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (District 37), one of the bill's primary sponsors. "A pet is a lifetime purchase and should bring a lot joy to families and we want to make sure families are purchasing healthy animals."

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COULD COMMUTERS AND LABOR REALLY GET A SAY IN NEW JERSEY TRANSIT?

John Reitmeyer, NJ Spotlight

Train accidents, fare hikes, and service cuts have all been part of NJ Transit’s recent history. Now there’s a bid to give riders and workers effective input to its future

After recent fare hikes, service cutbacks, and a fatal train accident, state lawmakers held hearings in Trenton to investigate New Jersey Transit’s finances and management. But they’ve also been working to change the makeup of the agency’s board to give commuters and labor more say.

A bill that would add two new members to NJ Transit’s board of directors who would have to be regular commuters on the agency’s trains and buses was advanced by a key legislative committee yesterday. The same bill would also give a labor representative who currently sits on the agency’s board full rights as a voting member.

Sponsors and other supporters of the legislation said making the proposed changes to the board’s structure would better connect the agency to the thousands of people who ride NJ Transit trains and buses every day. They also said it would give more weight to concerns about safety and rising commuting costs that daily riders have been raising in recent years, and foster more debate among a board that regularly votes on issues without any dissent.

“In our minds, the more the public can weigh in, the better,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and co-chair of the New Jersey For Transit coalition. “This is not going to solve everything, but at the very least it gives the public a voice, and it gives transit riders a voice,” he said.

The effort to add commuting members of the public to NJ Transit’s board was launched roughly a year ago on the heels of a 9 percent fare hike and service cuts that went into effect in late 2015. That increase followed a larger, 25 percent hike that was approved by the board in 2010 shortly after Gov. Chris Christie took office; despite complaints from commuters, it was approved without dissent by agency board members.

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