Assembly Approves Lagana, Mazzeo, Eustace, Andrzejczak & Vainieri Huttle Fixes to Improve Delivery of Long-Term & Community-Based Services for the Elderly

Three-Bill Package Based on State Audit is also Designed to Maximize Federal Funding to Save New Jersey Taxpayers Money

The full Assembly on Thursday unanimously approved a three-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Joseph Lagana, Vince Mazzeo, Tim Eustace, Bob Andrzejczak and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to improve the delivery of existing state programs and services in order to help the elderly maximize their independence while also protecting taxpayer dollars.

The bills were based on recommendations from a recent State Auditor report on selected community-based senior programs within the state Department of Human Services' Division of Aging Services. The programs, which are funded by the state and federal government and the Casino Revenue Fund, are designed to provide services to elderly residents to avoid unnecessary institutional placement. 

"Essentially these bills provide a number of fixes that will increase the efficiency of existing programs designed to aid some of our most frail and vulnerable residents," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "At the same time, these bills also call for better notification procedures in order to make sure seniors are aware that they may be eligible for critical safety net programs."

"Anyone with an aging parent or loved one knows how important it is to them to maximize their independence," said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). "We have a number of existing state programs designed to do just that but they're not necessarily being utilized by everyone who is eligible. These bills will help correct that and ensure that the state is taking advantage of every federal dollar available in order to save our taxpayers money."

"This audit was helpful in exposing several shortcomings that have either prevented seniors from accessing crucial programs or left important federal funding on the table," said Eustace. "These changes are designed to ensure a more efficient delivery of home and community-based long-term care services while also ensuring that elderly residents and their families do not have to deal with the aggravation of trying to get authorized claims processed."

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Assembly Democratic Bill to Give Parents Choice to Opt Out of PARCC Approved by Assembly

Bill sponsored by Diegnan, Jasey, Caputo, Benson, Eustace, Vainieri Huttle, Gusciora, Pinkin, McKeon & Andrzejczak in response to PARCC criticism

(TRENTON) - The General Assembly on Thursday approved legislation allowing parents and guardian to exclude a student from taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment being administered to New Jersey students in grades 3-11. 

The bill (A-4165), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick Diegnan, Mila Jasey, Ralph Caputo, Dan Benson, Tim Eustace, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Reed Gusciora, Nancy Pinkin, John McKeon and Bob Andrzejczak, is in response to the criticism and concerns raised by parents, students and educators about the effectiveness of the new test and how it will affect students. 

"The debate over the PARCC assessment and whether or not it will help or hurt students has only grown more intense," said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). "With so many lingering questions about its effectiveness and worry about the impact on students, it is only fair that we give parents the option to say no to the test on behalf of their children until we can answer their questions and ease their fears." 

"Tests help measure student learning, but the case made against the PARCC has many parents calling foul," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "This can't be an easy decision for parents to make, but until we can disprove the claims against the PARCC, they should have the opportunity to say no."

Under the opt-out bill, a student's parent or guardian would have 14 days before the test is given to notify the school district or charter school, in writing, that the student will not be taking the test. Schools must alert parents of upcoming PARCC assessments by no later than Sept. 30. 

Under the bill, a school district or charter school would be required to provide educationally appropriate alternative activities for students not taking the test. Any such alternative activity cannot occur in the same room where the test is being administered. Nothing in the bill is to be construed to exempt a student from any high school graduation requirement established under current law.

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Assembly Panel Approves Lampitt & Vainieri Huttle Bill to Help Bring Food Assistance Program Directly to Residents after Chronic Programming Delays

An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt and Valerie Vainieri Huttle to establish an enrollment program to help make sure New Jersey's most vulnerable families get the food assistance they need.

The bill (A-4090) would establish the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) enrollment program in the Department of Human Services (DHS).

"We need to be more creative in making sure this program works for the people who need it most because clearly the long-running approach has not been working," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "Long delays and a lack of communication have left many needy families in the lurch. This will help provide more clarity and make sure more residents are aware of this critical assistance."

The bill was designed to help combat New Jersey's "chronically poor performance" in administering the SNAP program. Reports last summer ranked the state 52nd out of 53 state agencies nationwide in terms of timeliness when it comes to processing applications for the program. 

"These changes will bring this program directly to residents, make them more aware of it, and help them enroll onsite," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Hopefully this will help alleviate some of the issues that have forced some of our most vulnerable residents to wait an exorbitant amount of time to find out if they qualify for crucial assistance to help feed their families."

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Jasey, Benson, Vainieri Huttle & McKeon Bill to Study Benefits of Later Start Time for Schools Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Mila Jasey, Dan Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and John McKeon to study the merits of pushing back the start time for middle schools and high schools in New Jersey was released Thursday by an Assembly panel.

The study would look into what it would take to make the change, including the recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that middle and high schools delay the start of class to 8:30 a.m. or later to better align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty. 

"The majority of adolescents in this country are not getting enough sleep. This can have serious consequences on their health and their grades," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "Resetting the school day would not be easy or simple, but given what we now know about the effects of sleep deprivation on the adolescent brain, to not even consider it as a possibility does our students a disservice. This bill is a good first step in determining whether changing the school start time makes sense for our students."

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Lampitt, Greenwald, Vainieri Huttle & Benson Bill to Create Tax-Free Savings Accounts for Individuals with Disabilities Advanced by Assembly Panel

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Majority Leader Louis Greenwald, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Daniel Benson to create tax-free savings accounts for individuals with disabilities was approved by an Assembly panel on Thursday.

The bill (A-3956) would establish a program within the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities known as ABLE - Achieving a Better Life Experience - in accordance with the federal "Achieving a Better Life Experience Act of 2014," which was signed into law by President Obama in December 2014.

"The goal of this law is to ease the financial strains faced by individuals with disabilities by making tax-free savings accounts available to cover many day-to-day expenses," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "This is an important tool to help provide financial security throughout their lives."

"This new law will allow people with disabilities to open specialized accounts where they can save up to $100,000 without risking eligibility for Social Security and other government programs," said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). "Even more importantly, individuals can keep their Medicaid coverage no matter how much money they accrue in an ABLE account."

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Vainieri Huttle & Quijano “Gestational Carrier Agreement” Bill Advanced by Assembly Panel

Bill Would Provide Legal Protections to Help Individuals Struggling to Conceive

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Annette Quijano to provide legal protections to those struggling to conceive a child who wish to use a gestational carrier was advanced by an Assembly panel on Thursday. 

The bill (A-2648), titled the "New Jersey Gestational Carrier Agreement Act," would authorize a written contract under which a woman agrees to carry and give birth to a child created using assisted reproduction on behalf of an intended parent. 

Unlike traditional surrogacy, in which a woman is artificially inseminated with the semen of the intended father and gives birth to a child through the use of her own egg, a gestational carrier does not make use of her own egg and therefore is not genetically related to the child. 

The issue of surrogacy garnered national headlines in the late 1980's with the case of "Baby M," in which the New Jersey Supreme Court found traditional surrogacy agreements invalid because they violated various public policies and state statutes. In 2009, a New Jersey Superior Court ruled that the findings in the Baby M case apply to gestational surrogacy as well as traditional surrogacy cases.

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Assembly Panel OK’s Vainieri Huttle, Sumter & Mukherji Bill to Ensure Substance Abuse Education in Schools Includes Latest Evidence-Based Standards & Practices

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Shavonda Sumter and Raj Mukherji to ensure substance abuse education in New Jersey schools includes the most up-to-date information available was released Thursday by an Assembly committee. 

The bill (A-3713) requires the State Board of Education to conduct a review of the Core Curriculum Content Standards in Comprehensive Health and Physical Education to ensure that substance abuse instruction incorporates the most recent evidence-based standards and practices.

"How can we effectively reach young people about the perils of substance abuse if the information we are providing is outdated?" asked Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This review will help make sure that the education that our students are getting about substance abuse is reliable and useful."

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Assembly Democratic Legislative Package to Give Parents Choice to Opt Out of PARCC, Study Effectiveness of Controversial Test Clears Assembly Panel

Sponsored by Diegnan, Jasey, Caputo, Benson, Eustace, Vainieri Huttle, Gusciora, Pinkin, McKeon, Andrzejczak & Johnson

An Assembly panel on Thursday released a two-bill legislative package to tackle the growing concern over the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment being administered to New Jersey students in grades 3-11. 

The first bill (A-4165), sponsored by Assembly Democrats Patrick Diegnan, Mila Jasey, Ralph Caputo, Dan Benson, Tim Eustace, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Reed Gusciora, Nancy Pinkin, John McKeon and Bob Andrzejczak, would allow a parent or guardian to exclude a student from taking the PARCC. The second bill (A-4268), sponsored by Andrzejczak, Diegnan and Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, would establish a task force to study the effectiveness and implementation of the PARCC. 

"The debate over the PARCC assessment and whether or not it will help or hurt students has only grown more intense," said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). "With so many lingering questions about its effectiveness and worry about the impact on students, it is only fair that we give parents the option to say no to the test on behalf of their children until we can answer their questions and ease their fears." 

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Tucker, Caputo, Giblin, Vainieri Huttle & Wimberly Bill to Increase Personal Needs Allowance for Some of State’s Most Vulnerable Residents Advances

Legislation Assembly Democrats Cleopatra Tucker, Ralph Caputo, Tom Giblin Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to increase the monthly personal needs allowance years for residents in certain state facilities for the first time in 30 years was advanced by an Assembly panel this week.

"For some men and women who require special attention, long-term care may be the best option, and it's important that residents of these facilities can remain as independent as possible," said Tucker (D-Essex). "By increasing the personal needs allowance and tying it to the cost of living, this bill will help ensure that individuals in state institutions can have the highest possible quality of life."

Specifically, the bill (A-3084) would increase the minimum monthly personal needs allowance (PNA) for residents of nursing facilities, state or county psychiatric hospitals and state developmental centers who are not eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The measure would raise the allowance to a minimum of $50 from $35. It would be the first such increase in 30 years, Tucker noted.

The bill would also provide for an annual cost-of-living adjustment to the PNA, which may be used to purchase personal items such as clothing, grooming aids, newspapers and other items not regularly provided in the facility.

"Although the cost of living has increased significantly in New Jersey since 1985, the personal needs allowance has not gone up in three decades," said Caputo (D-Essex). "Providing a few extra dollars for a haircut or to buy a birthday card is a small gesture that can go a long way toward improving the quality of life for many residents of state facilities."

"Regardless of whether or not a person is in an institution, being able to address personal hygiene, pursue one's interests and connect with friends and family adds fullness to life," said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic). "Increasing the personal needs allowance in New Jersey is long overdue." 

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Conaway, Mukherji, Sumter, Jimenez, Benson & Vainieri Huttle Bills to Curb Prescription Drug & Opioid Abuse Gain Panel Approval

(TRENTON) - Two bills aimed at addressing prescription drug and opioid abuse in New Jersey were advanced Monday by an Assembly panel. 
The first bill (A-3723) would require any drug treatment program operating within a state correctional facility or county jail to offer medication-assisted treatment of substance abuse disorders in order to qualify for licensing as a residential drug treatment program and be eligible to receive the benefits thereof. 
Sponsors Herb Conaway, Raj Mukherji, Shavonda Sumter and Angelica Jimenez noted that the measure will help advance drug rehabilitation among inmates across New Jersey.
"Medication-assisted treatment is an evidence-based practice widely recognized by public health and addiction professionals as one of the best options in helping manage opioid addiction," said Conaway (D-Burlington). "This legislation is about making sure that effective rehabilitation methods are available to men and women suffering from addiction."
The bill, which clarifies that the use of medication-assisted treatment would not constitute a program violation, also would permit participants in special probation drug court to take advantage of medication-assisted treatment.
"Part of the objective of every correctional facility should be to provide inmates with the tools they need to ensure that they never return," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "Medication-assisted treatment can advance the dual mission of promoting recovery and preventing recidivism."
"This bill represents a much-needed shift in our approach to treatment," said Sumter. "Whenever an individual makes the decision to seek the help they need, we ought to ensure that all the appropriate resources are available."
"Correctional facility inmates who want to turn their lives around ought to have the opportunity to do so," said Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson). "By treating addiction as the disease it is, this legislation will help give more New Jersey residents hope of successful recovery." 
The second bill (A-3955) would require the development and maintenance of a database to advise the public about open bed availability in residential substance use disorder treatment facilities. Under the bill, the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services in the Department of Human Services would establish and oversee a public database that would track the number of open beds available for treatment in each facility that receives state or county funding.

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