Stories of abuse at N.J. group homes spark lawmakers to demand action

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

TRENTON — If a child came home from day care or school with bruises, burns and broken bones, parents would rightfully demand an explanation and administrators would expect to be held accountable. So why do people with developmental disabilities deserve any less of a response? 

Gus Egizi of Hammonton politely but firmly posed this question Monday to members of the Assembly Human Services Committee as they debated a bill that would impose stricter rules on state licensed group home operators.

Egizi said his 37-year-old son, Michael, suffered a sunburn so bad he needed hospital care, as well as multiple bruises and injuries while under the care of group home and hospital staff. He's hired lawyers to get answers, but those requests have been ignored.

"This would not be tolerated if it had happened at a day care center or a school," Egizi said. "This is a human rights issue. This is a civil rights issue."

Aileen Rivera, a councilwoman from Wayne, said her 31-year-old son still suffers from the anxiety from enduring beatings, being restrained for hours and humiliated when a worker urinated on him.

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Lawmakers approve new Bergen Regional oversight plan reflecting changes sought by Christie

Mary Jo Layton, The Record

An 11-member hospital authority would have sweeping powers over the management of Bergen Regional Medical Center if Gov. Christie as expected signs a bill lawmakers approved Thursday reflecting changes he sought in a conditional veto earlier this month.

The agency — comprising the Bergen Executive, county residents with expertise in finance and non-profit management, and appointees of the governor — would supervise administrators, finances and operations at the state’s largest hospital, under the terms of the revised measure.

“The important benefits of creating this hospital authority have been preserved even with the governor’s conditional veto,” said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, the Teaneck Democrat who’s a primary sponsor of the bill.

“Most important, it provides for an 11-member board with appropriate oversight and a sole responsibility to make sure the facility does well while protecting the public interest,” she added.

The Republican governor removed language from the original bill that created mandates on prevailing wages and project labor agreements for work or services provided at the hospital, strategies that the GOP has long maintained drive up the cost of business. However, the governor said “a single-purpose authority is likely necessary to oversee the state’s largest, publicly owned hospital.’’

A 19-year contract between the Bergen County Improvement Authority and Bergen Regional Medical Center LP, the current for-profit manager of the publicly owned hospital, is scheduled to expire in March. County officials are seeking proposals from companies to run the hospital and so far a dozen, including the current managers, have expressed interest.

The bill, which was approved overwhelmingly in both houses Thursday, was proposed following a report in The Record earlier this year detailing hundreds of alleged assaults in units throughout the hospital in recent years. A 6-year-old girl was allegedly sexually assaulted, fights broke out in detox units and locked-down wards and senior citizens were allegedly attacked in the long-term care unit, according to police reports and interviews with families. The Paramus facility also came under increased scrutiny after a rare federal investigation into assaults on staff resulted in a fine.

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Bill would offer tuition reimbursement to mental health practitioners who work in underserved areas

Anjalee Khemlani, NJBIZ

Borrowing from military and public health practices, a growing trend to help care for populations in underserved areas is once again being introduced in New Jersey.

By offering partial reimbursements for medical school tuition, in exchange for working in designated underserved areas, the state hopes to fill a shortage in mental health care.

The bill by Assemblywomen Mila Jasey (D- Maplewood) and Valerie Huttle (D-Englewood) and Assemblyman John McKeon (D- Madison), which was introduced in June, was advanced by an Assembly panel Thursday.

“The decrease in mental health centers in the state has left a void in care for New Jersey residents who rely on these services,” said McKeon. “Mostly low-income urban and rural communities are without access to these services. This bill is about creating opportunity and access for residents.”

The bill calls for the Commissioner of Health to designate underserved areas, based on health status and economic indicators, which are in need of psychiatrists. The physicians must provide care for patients regardless of ability to pay, according to the bill.

The bill allows for a reimbursement if the psychiatrist is a resident of New Jersey, a state-licensed physician and applies for the program within a year of completing a residency. The physician must agree to stay and practice in the area for a period of one to four years, according to the bill.

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Oversight of state's largest hospital sits on Christie's desk

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

Legislators say they are worried that Gov. Christie may make changes to a bill that would create an authority to oversee Bergen Regional Medical Center.

The bill, S2361, passed the Senate 25-11 and the Assembly 52-25 in June. If Christie signs it, the legislation would create a committee to oversee Bergen Regional, moving the hospital out from under the auspices of the Bergen County Improvement Authority.

The 11-member committee would include representatives with expertise in the financial and healthcare fields.

Proponents of the legislation hope the committee would be able to more closely monitor the hospital's administration and eradicate some of the problems the Paramus facility has seen during its 19 year partnership with BCIA.

Specifically, legislators point to the reports of violence by patients toward caregivers, which earned the hospital a citation from federal officials.

"I would hope the governor realized the issues of the sins of the past that we would be able to correct," said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), a sponsor of the bill.

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Christie signs bill banning N.J. pension investments with businesses boycotting Israel

Matt Arco, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON — New Jersey on Tuesday became the third state in the nation to put a law on its books to oppose a movement that encourages a boycott of Israeli goods and services.

Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bipartisan measure that bars the state's public worker pension fund from investing in companies that refuse to do business with Israel.

The Garden State joins Florida and Illinois, which have similar laws. It's a public pushback against businesses participating in the Palestinian-led "Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions" movement.

The BDS movement is a global campaign to put pressure on Israeli to stop "colonizing Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes."

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Christie signs bill banning N.J. investments with companies boycotting Israel

By John C. Ensslin, The Record

Governor Christie signed into law on Tuesday a measure that prohibits state investments in any company that boycotts Israel.

“Israel is the beacon of democracy in a region that is in constant conflict and turmoil” Christie said moments after signing the bill.

He noted New Jersey does $1.3 billion in trade with Israel annually.

Christie encouraged other states to adopt similar measures.

Assemblyman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Englewood, one of the bill’s prime sponsors, was present for the bill signing at the State House.

“I’m very grateful,” she said afterwards. “I’m happy to see that New Jersey remains a strong ally to Israel. The purpose of the bill is to make sure – they are the sole democracy in that area – that we don’t stifle them.”

The bill, which had 60 co-sponsors, passed the Assembly by a 70-3 vote. It was unanimously approved in the Senate where the Israeli Consul General from New York addressed the lawmakers before the vote.

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Taxes, fees for online accommodations crucial to shore

Our View, Press of Atlantic City

Illegal room and apartment rentals through online services are a significant threat to the Jersey Shore tourism industry.

Since these rogue operations through internet-based facilitators such as Airbnb aren't licensed, inspected or paying taxes and fees, they have a competitive cost advantage over legitimate hotels, motels and apartment complexes.

They're siphoning off revenue needed by the legal hospitality industry to maintain the high standards of appearance and services needed for the shore to remain an appealing destination.

They're also cheating the state's taxpayers, by benefiting from municipal and state services without paying for them.
State legislators finally are taking the first steps to address this lawless pillaging of the hospitality industry and the shore economy. Two Assembly members - Annette Quijano, D-Union, and Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen - are introducing a bill to apply regular taxes and fees to short-term, online house and room rentals.

Under their proposal, whose language is still being worked out, users of Airbnb-type services would pay a 7 percent sales and use tax and a 5 percent transient accommodation fee. Certain municipalities would be authorized to impose a 3 percent accommodation tax.

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New Jersey considers taxing online home rentals

Phil Gregory, Newsworks

New Jersey could require home rental websites to pay the same state and local occupancy taxes as motels and hotels.

A legislative proposal calls for imposing a 7 percent sales tax and a 5 percent transient accommodation fee on rentals booked on those websites, said Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle. Municipalities could charge a 3 percent fee.

"More people are using online marketplaces like Airbnb to book their vacation rentals," she said. "It's important to have parity — not only to have everyone pay their fair share of taxes, but it also provides a much needed revenue boost to the state."

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N.J. bill would tax Airbnb, online rentals like hotels

Jeff Goldman, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

TRENTON — Online marketplaces such as Airbnb that offer short-term house and room rentals would be taxed like hotels under a proposal introduced in the state Assembly this week.

The bill introduced by Annette Quijano (D-Union) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) would impose a 7 percent sales and use tax and a 5 percent transient accommodation fee on accommodations booked through Airbnb and similar websites.

The caveat is that only landlords who have collected at least $1,000 by renting out their property in the past 12 months would be taxed.

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Lawmakers introduce bill to impose statewide taxes on Airbnb hosts

Katherine Landergan, Politico New Jersey 

Lawmakers in Trenton have introduced a bill that would impose the first statewide taxes on Airbnb hosts in New Jersey.

If enacted, residents who rent out their properties through the website would be required to pay the same taxes and fees as hotels. The proposal, which does not yet appear online, comes just months after Newark and Jersey City agreed to tax Airbnb rentals like hotel rooms.

Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, a sponsor of the proposal, said in a statement that the taxes will generate some much needed revenue for the state and municipalities.

“This is all about fairness,” said Quijano, a Democrat from Union County. “There is nothing fair about one company having to pay certain fees while another one that provides essentially the same service is exempt.”

It’s unclear how much revenue the state could generate from these taxes, and no fiscal estimate was immediately available. But in Jersey City and Newark, city leaders have said the taxes could generate hundreds of thousands of dollars or more for their cities, according to NJ.com.

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