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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Jasey, Vainieri Huttle & Diegnan on 2-Bill Package to Increase Parental Awareness of Standardized Testing & Restrict Usage in NJ

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Lampitt, Vainieri Huttle, Benson, Mosquera, Spencer & Wimberly Bill to Create Alert System for Missing Disabled Persons Continues Advancing

Bill Would Create MVP Emergency Alert System

(TRENTON) - Assembly approved legislation Assembly Democrats Pamela Lampitt, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson, Gabriela Mosquera, L. Grace Spencer and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to create an alert system for missing persons with mental, intellectual or developmental disabilities continues advancing.
The bill (A-2709) would require the Attorney General to establish the MVP Emergency Alert System, which would provide practices and protocols for the rapid dissemination of information regarding a person who is believed to be a missing vulnerable person. 
A "missing vulnerable person" or "MVP" is defined to mean a person who is believed to have a mental, intellectual or developmental disability who goes missing under circumstances that indicate that the person may be in danger of death or serious bodily injury. 
The program would be a voluntary, cooperative effort between state and local law enforcement agencies and the media.
The bill was approved by the Assembly in December and released Monday by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
"This legislation reflects our collective duty to protect some of the most vulnerable New Jersey residents," said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). "We must do all we can to ensure missing individuals can return home safe and sound, especially when we have all the necessary resources already in place."
"When it comes to recovering a person who's gone missing, we know that time is of the essence and knowledge is power," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "By creating widespread awareness as soon as possible, we can maximize the likelihood that a missing person will be found alive and unharmed."
"We already have systems in place to alert the public when other vulnerable populations go missing," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "This is another way to aid in the search of individuals who may be at a higher risk of going missing and may have a harder time seeking help because of their disabilities."
"Timing is everything in a missing persons case. Even more so when the person who has gone missing has developmental disabilities that might make finding them that much more challenging," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "Quickly alerting the public about a missing person increases the chances of the person being found safely."

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Schaer, Johnson, Vainieri Huttle & Eustace Bill to Protect Holocaust Reparations Clears Assembly

The General Assembly on Monday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Gordon Johnson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Tim Eustace to protect monetary reparations received by Holocaust survivors from being seized.

"The physical and moral atrocities committed during World War II were compounded by monetary grievances that stretched on for decades," said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Given the extraordinary lengths many Holocaust victims or surviving relatives have gone through to receive restitution, protecting these reparations is the least we can do."

Specifically, the bill (A-1041) stipulates that, except for child support payment orders, monetary reparations designated for or received by a Holocaust survivor of Nazi persecution from any governmental source or victim assistance source shall be exempt from all claims of creditors and from levy, execution, attachment or other legal processes.

"Monetary reparations are a relatively small pittance for the enormous crimes committed against humanity by the Nazis," said Johnson (D-Bergen). "But for many surviving families, this is all they have and it should be protected at all costs."

"As the dust has settled on this sorrowful chapter in history, certain things must be treated as sacred, and this is one of them," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "This is the right thing to do for the many families who only have monetary reparations to serve as justice in the end."

"Those most directly affected by the Holocaust suffered in indescribable ways, and while reparations can never undo that suffering, they do serve as a small measure of redress," said Eustace (D- Bergen/Passaic). "This legislation is about preserving justice in honor of the men, women and children who experienced countless acts of violence and cruelty during this dreadful period."

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