Eustace, Benson, Vainieri Huttle, Lagana & Caride Legislation to Encourage Safe Disposal of Prescription Drugs Becomes Law

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Timothy Eustace, Daniel Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joseph Lagana and Marlene Caride to provide a safe way for New Jersey residents to dispose of prescription drugs was signed into law on Wednesday.

"Disposing of unused prescription drugs properly is equally as important as taking them as prescribed," said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Prescription drug abuse is prevalent in many communities, and much of that abuse begins at home where the drugs are easily accessible." 

The new law (A-2859) formally establishes the "Project Medicine Drop" program, which will be administered by the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. The director shall continue to maintain at each participating law enforcement agency that meets program participation requirements a secure prescription medicine drop-off receptacle wherein unused or expired prescription drugs and other common household medications may be anonymously surrendered by members of the public seven days a week, 365 days a year. 

In June of 2011, following a public hearing outlining the changing dynamics of the criminal drug trade, the State of New Jersey Commission of Investigation (SCI) found that a growing number of young people are abusing prescription drugs, and noted that the practice has led to increases not only in the number of young people addicted to painkillers, but also in the number of young people using heroin. The report issued by the SCI in July 2013, "Scenes from an Epidemic," confirms this finding and notes that addiction often begins with leftover prescription medicines in the home.

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Vainieri Huttle, Gordon & Weinberg Step Up Battle for Port Authority Reforms

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Senator Bob Gordon and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (all D-Bergen) are preparing a Port Authority reform bill that will add mission and management reforms to the tough ethics and disclosure standards proposed in their previous legislation that was vetoed by Governor Christie.

"The new bill will also modify the senior management structure to provide for a unified chain of command, and a mechanism to assure that each state has equal influence in policy making and budget decisions," Vainieri Huttle said. "The sponsors from both states have just begun to evaluate the various organizational options and are conferring with outside experts."

"The Port Authority needs major systemic reforms that will put an end to the problems that led to the Bridgegate scandal and the secret machinations behind the massive 2011 toll hikes," said Gordon. "Unfortunately, Republicans refused to join with us in voting to override the Governor's veto six weeks ago. But we have been holding discussions with our fellow reformers in the New York Legislature on new legislation that we hope will be enacted."

"We have already seen the damage that is caused by a lack of transparency and accountability at the Port Authority," Weinberg said. "But the need for reform is broader than simply ethics. We need to make sure that the Port Authority fulfills its core mission of meeting the transportation needs of the 350,000 New Jerseyans who cross the Hudson each day to jobs in New York and the 120,000 New Yorkers who make a reverse commute to New Jersey."

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The most effective, respected Assembly team in New Jersey: Johnson and Huttle running together in 2015

Assemblyman Gordon Johnson and Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, two of the most respected and effective legislators in New Jersey, today announced they are running together to continue their fight to make lives better for the working families they are proud to represent and serve. From working to create jobs, improving transparency in government, and protecting health care for women and children, to continuing to ensure our schools and neighborhoods are safer, they have built a record of advocacy and accomplishment across Bergen County’s 37th District. The two legislators have the support of every Democratic mayor in the 37th as well as thousands of grassroots Democrats, progressive activists and voters in every town they represent. Whether it is increasing economic development, to expanding the Hudson/Bergen “light rail” to the community, to advocating for victims of domestic violence and the most vulnerable, to making higher education more affordable, to bringing much needed reform to government agencies like the Port Authority, Johnson and Huttle will never back away from tackling the most difficult issues facing our state.

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

Legislation Assembly Democrats Cleopatra Tucker, Ralph Caputo, Tom Giblin Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to increase the monthly personal needs allowance for residents in certain state facilities for the first time in 30 years gained Assembly approval on Thursday.

"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 quality of life possible."

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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Vainieri Huttle, Jasey & Caputo Bill to Expand Steroid Testing for High School Athletes Gains Assembly Approval

Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Mila Jasey and Ralph Caputo to expand steroid testing and education throughout New Jersey high schools was unanimously approved by the full Assembly on Thursday.

"Student-athletes who turn to steroids to get an edge over the competition may not realize the serious risks they are taking with their health," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Many see their sports heroes achieve impressive feats with the help of steroids and think it is okay for them to do the same, not understanding how detrimental these drugs can be to their physical and psychological health."

The bill (A-2699) builds upon the recommendations in the December 2005 report of the Governor's Task Force on Steroid Use and Prevention by expanding the state's existing random steroid testing program beyond just those athletes who qualify for playoffs to include student athletes in general. 

"Since it was first implemented, the results of our random steroid testing program have been extremely encouraging," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "However, they only capture a small snapshot of the student-athlete population. This bill will help expand testing to create an even greater deterrent to keep students away from these drugs and on the path to a healthier lifestyle."

In doing so, the bill would require the Department of Education (DOE) and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to work jointly to develop and implement, by the 2015-2016 school year, a program of random steroid testing of student-athletes. The bill would also appropriate $45,000 to the DOE to fund the testing.

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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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