N.J. lawmakers approve curbs on smoking in parks and on beaches


TRENTON - In addition to passing a budget Thursday, New Jersey lawmakers voted on dozens of bills, ranging from bans on public smoking to barring employers from asking about job applicants' criminal histories during the initial phase of the hiring process.

Legislation that would ban smoking in public parks and beaches passed both houses Thursday and heads to Gov. Christie. It would impose a complete ban in state, county, and municipal parks but allow for designated smoking areas in up to 15 percent of the area of a public beach.

About one-third of municipalities in New Jersey have some outdoor public smoking ban in place, supporters of the bill say.

Smokers could still light up in parking lots adjacent to the beach or park. Violators would be subject to fines of $250 on the first offense and bigger ones thereafter - similar to penalties assessed on those who break indoor smoking laws.

The bill would take effect 180 days after enactment.

Another proposal that gained legislative approval would prohibit the treatment and disposal of waste from hydraulic fracturing in New Jersey.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, is a drilling technique used in natural gas exploration in some states, including Pennsylvania, but not in New Jersey. Environmentalists said fracking waste has previously been stored in facilities in New Jersey.

"If we allow fracking waste to be dumped into our water systems unchecked, we're really playing Russian roulette with public health," Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D., Bergen), a bill sponsor, said in a statement.

The Senate approved the measure in May, and the Assembly passed it Thursday. Christie vetoed a similar bill in 2012, saying it was unconstitutional because he could not regulate interstate commerce.

A spokesman for Christie declined to comment on pending legislation other than to say that the bills would receive "careful review" in the 45 days the governor has to act.

In other action, the Senate gave final legislative approval to a bill that would require municipal police vehicles primarily used in traffic stops to maintain video recording devices.

The bill, to be funded by a surcharge on people convicted of driving while intoxicated, would only apply to newly acquired vehicles. Alternatively, police officers could wear such a device.

Assemblyman Paul D. Moriarty (D., Gloucester) introduced the bill after he was charged in July 2012 with driving while intoxicated in Washington Township.

The charges were dismissed after his lawyer obtained video footage of a recording taken by a camera in the arresting officer's car. It showed that Moriarty had been driving normally before the stop and had passed field sobriety tests.

The bill expired last session before Christie took action on it.

The Legislature also sent Christie a bill that seeks to remove some barriers to employment for those with criminal histories.

It would prohibit employers from inquiring, either orally or in an application, about job applicants' criminal histories during the initial stages of the hiring process. The bill says employers would be able to inquire about criminal backgrounds after the first interview.

Advocates say applicants with criminal records are much less likely to receive callbacks for job openings than the general population.

Twelve states have enacted statewide "ban the box" legislation, advocates said, and New Jersey would be the fifth to apply the regulation to the private sector.

Employers could still consider criminal records in making hiring decisions, though they would have to consult federal guidelines.

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