Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight
Some advocates fear plan would create new level of bureaucracy for families to negotiate
State senators from both political parties have joined forces to advance a plan that would create an independent office within New Jersey government to advocate for residents with developmental disabilities and help them navigate the existing maze of government services.
The legislation — scheduled for a vote Thursday in the Senate Health Committee — mirrors a proposal approved by a unanimous vote in the Assembly in June that would create an ombudsman’s office for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families. The ombudsman would be appointed by the governor but would operate independently to connect people with state programs run by several departments, advocate for them with state officials, monitor the state’s work, and report to state officials and lawmakers.
While two similar versions of the plan were considered, Senate staff said the lead sponsors, Sen. Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union) and Sen. Brian Stack (D-Hudson), chose to advance the Assembly bill () that calls for the office to serve as a neutral party to help resolve disputes between families and state agencies. The bill envisions the ombudsman as a conduit for information and an advocate for those with disabilities and mechanism to help ensure that public policy reflects the needs of developmentally disabled individuals.
“There’s a bipartisan consensus that we need to move forward with this effort to increase access to services and increase protections for those with developmental disabilities,” Kean said. “I’m glad to partner with Senator Stack on this critical legislation to support our state’s most vulnerable residents.”Read more
David Cruz, NJTV News
With a swipe of his veto pen, this year Gov. Chris Christie put a stop to Democratic lawmakers’ efforts to raise the minimum wage to $15. But the minimum wage debate, that continues. Lawmakers say they’re ready to go back to voters with another referendum — the second in three years — that would raise the wage. But some Republican lawmakers hope for a chance to broaden the conversation before it comes to that.
“They’re pushing an agenda,” said Republican Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi. “They will never provide a balanced approach to it, and that’s the unfortunate thing. In order for the public to completely understand what the implications of something are, they have to understand the entire story and make a determination from there. What you have is these unions pumping millions and millions of dollars into a narrative that’s only a partial portion of a narrative.”
Which, you might not be shocked to learn, is just about what the other side says. By now, the arguments have been made. Worker advocates say they can’t live on $18,000 a year and employers say they can’t afford to pay everyone $15 an hour. But there has to be a middle ground somewhere, no?Read more
Phil Gregory, WBGO News
New Jersey lawmakers are considering new regulations for crane and claw amusement games that include posting the odds of winning right on the machines.
Edward McGlynn with the New Jersey Amusement Association opposes the legislation.
"These are skill machines so I don't know how you make odds available for skill machines. To me the analogy would be how can you make odds as to whether or not someone is going to bowl 300. It just doesn't work."
Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle says she spent a lot of time and money playing claw machines trying to win a prize for her kids.
"How skillful is it when you're really just moving the crane with the claw and all of the sudden you've got in and you're coming down to pick up the stuffed animal and then it drops."
Huttle says posting the odds of winning would be helpful.
"In all the amusement games that is probably the toughest which means it would probably have the most odds against winning because you can see that very few people win on that."Read more
Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight
Reducing physical and emotional abuse, neglect in state-funded facilities
After nearly three years of discussion and legislative fine-tuning, New Jersey lawmakers will again review a proposal to better protect individuals with developmental disabilities, improve transparency around state-funded operations, and hold abusers accountable for their actions.
The measure —known as Stephen Komninos’ Law, after a 22-year-old man who choked to death in a group home when left alone in 2007 against medical orders — would require a half-dozen surprise visits per year at public institutions and private group homes, day programs, and other facilities that use state funds to serve people with developmental disabilities. The plan requires family members to be notified within an hour of any abuse or injury discovered and requires state officials to follow up on such reports within days. It also mandates background tests and drug screening for front-line staff at these sites.
The latest version of the bill (A-2503), championed by Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) with nine of her colleagues, is scheduled for a vote Thursday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee; it received unanimous support from the Human Services Committee in September. A Senate version, sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) and Senator Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth), awaits action.Read more
Times of Trenton Editorial Board
In addition to bonding mother and baby in the crucial months after childbirth, the benefits of breastfeeding show up in surprising ways.
Research suggests that if 90 percent of families breastfed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 infant deaths could be avoided.
The compelling figure comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which also notes that nursing infants usually need fewer sick-care visits, fewer prescriptions and less time in the hospital.
Now a group of New Jersey lawmakers is looking to widen protections for nursing mothers, extending existing laws to include women who work for small businesses, as well as those who continue nursing after their babies turn a year old.
The Assembly Labor Committee recently unanimously approved Bill A2294, which would make it a civil rights violation for a working woman to be fired or otherwise discriminated against for breastfeeding or expressing her milk during breaks.Read more
Mary Jo Layton, The Record
Nearly 300 mental health advocates on Wednesday called for the state to maintain funding for outpatient services, saying the potential loss of more than $6 million in Bergen County alone will impact thousands of clients who can’t afford private psychiatric or addiction treatment.
Speakers warned of dire consequences in an already-burdened mental health system at the event in Washington Township. If services are cut, more patients will end up in hospitals, emergency rooms and in jail, experts warned.
“We need not to cut the funding. We need to increase the funding for people,” Bergen County Executive James Tedesco said.
The state plans to switch from a grant system that provided monthly lump sums to mental health providers to a model that pays a fee for each service as it is provided. Patients who can afford to pay for their own mental health care and seek treatment from private specialists will not be affected.
The new system, however, could cost four outpatient programs in Bergen County – which provide Medicaid-subsidized care — $6 million, potentially causing the programs to lose 60 psychiatrists, clinicians and other support staff, advocates said.Read more
Brianna Vannozzi, NJTV News
Mental health and addiction agencies are banding together to stop the state from transitioning to a fee-for-service health care model. That’s the system that moves away from predetermined contract fees by drawing down federal dollars. Instead it requires doctors to charge for each service provided — like tests or scans. Some experts say that leaves big gaps for state reimbursements.
“The model works in theory, but in practice the system — the mental health system is going to lose tens of million of dollars in revenue that’s going to affect people with mental illness and their families,” said Lou Schwarcz, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Morris County.
At a legislative breakfast in Bergen County, community health care providers and families in need of mental health services hoped to convince lawmakers that state funding cuts to charity care and the fee-for-service change would hit mental health services hard.
“Our biggest concern is that the safety net of those state contracts that have been in place for many, many years are going away and that as a result of fee-for-service a lot of the more behind the scenes supports that are so critical to our folks with mental illness are not going to be reimbursed,” said Morris County Department of Human Services Mental Health Administrator Laurie Becker.
“We estimate that in July 2017 approximately 2,000 individuals that we see for what we call medication management would lose services or be at threat for loss of services,” Joe Masciandaro, President and CEO of CarePlus NJ.Read more
CBS New York
TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — New Jersey lawmakers have introduced a bill that would protect breastfeeding mothers from workplace discrimination.
The new legislation would require employers to provide a proper location and a “reasonable break” for breastfeeding mothers to pump during work hours. The bill would also make it a civil rights violation to fire a woman because she is breastfeeding during work hours.
“Mothers don’t stop being mothers when they get to work,” bill sponsor Democrat Valerie Vainieri Huttle said in a statement. “The benefits of breastfeeding babies, especially during the first six months, are undisputable. No woman should ever be shamed for, or prevented from feeding her child the best food possible.”
The bill, sponsored by Huttle and Democrat Bob Andrzejczak was approved by the Assembly Labor Committee on Thursday.Read more
Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight
The goal is to extend current law, to cover women who work for small businesses or who are nursing babies older than one year
State and federal laws give New Jersey mothers the right to nurse infants in public and at most jobs, and breastfeeding rates here have risen steadily in recent years. But these protections don’t extend to moms who work for small businesses or those who want to nurse toddlers.
A handful of Democratic lawmakers are seeking to change that with a proposal that would extend civil rights protections to breastfeeding mothers in the Garden State. The measure is scheduled for a vote in the Assembly labor committee on Thursday.
All states — except Idaho — plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico legally permit mothers to breastfeed in any public or private location, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. New Jersey’s law, approved in 1997, protects a woman’s right to nurse in any public place, including resorts or amusement parks.
The federal Affordable Care Act, enacted in 2014, requires insurance plans to cover breastfeeding counseling and supplies. And, in recent years, New Jersey hospitals have adapted their practices to encourage new mothers to nurse.
The legal protections and growing education campaign — breastfeeding was a priority for former New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd — have clearly paid off.
In 2010, 72 percent of Garden State mothers had nursed their babies at some point; by 2016, this had jumped to 82 percent, according to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s biannual Breastfeeding Report Card. New Jersey was one of 29 states to already have reached one of two breastfeeding targets for 2020 set by federal regulators.Read more
Times of the Trenton Editorial Board
As the public woke up to the horrors of tobacco, more and more venues began declaring no-smoking zones to keep our lungs safe.
Airplanes, hospitals, restaurants, government buildings – all are places we don't have to inhale noxious fumes or cast our gaze on discarded butts and used matches.
No-smoking ordinances already exist in almost 300 of the state's municipalities.
If that seems harsh, consider the price society annually pays in terms of health costs, environmental clean-up and the risks of fires set by the careless disposal of an ignited cigarette.
"Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in this country, and everyone is well aware of the dangers of second-hand smoke in this day and age," said state Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen).
The lawmaker, a key proponent of anti-smoking bans, notes that polls show Garden State residents are supportive of expanding such policies.
Last summer, the state came heart-breakingly close to adopting what would have been the most comprehensive anti-smoking law in the country.Read more