Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
When Jennifer Sullivan lived on a farm in New Hampshire for two years, the 26-year-old petite woman with autism hiked, worked in a bakery and tended to lambs and cows. She ate fruits and vegetables. She liked to socialize.
After four years in a group home in Bridgewater, Jennifer has developed cavities and gum disease because she binges on junk food and doesn't like to brush her teeth, according to her mother, Joan Sullivan of Rutherford. When she is not at work organizing shopping bags at a supermarket, Jennifer typically refuses to leave her bedroom. She hits herself when she is agitated, her mother said.
Joan Sullivan has pleaded with the Christie administration to let Jennifer return to Plowshare Farm in Greenfield, N.H. a community for people with developmental disabilities. But the administration won't do it -- even though Gov. Chris Christie signed a law last year that ended the policy that forced Jennifer's return.
Halting the "Return Home New Jersey" policy allowed 370 people with developmental and intellectual disabilities to remain in a home outside the state -- a victory for the dozens of families who convinced lawmakers the move would have been psychologically disruptive, and for some even medically risky.
Jennifer Sullivan is among the 170 the state transferred back from 2009 to 2015 when the policy was in effect. "Return Home" was created to save the state money and bring people closer to their families.Read more
Kelly Nicholaides, The Record
RUTHERFORD — At a time when coming out is still a life-changing move, more lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender entrepreneurs are identifying their businesses as part of the LGBT community, as a matter of pride as well as economics.
About 100 LGBT people attended the New Jersey LGBT Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel in Rutherford on Tuesday. The group meets at least once a month for meetings and social events held all over the state.
Ferlie Almonte is an image consultant through her business Resilient Life With Ferlie, while her wife, Christine Cipriano, helps people exceed in business through golf with her business Fit for the Tee. Both businesses fall under their combined LLC. The Garfield couple are seeking the chamber's help in getting a free national certification as an LGBT Business Enterprise. That certification through the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NGLCC) will give them access to 160 Fortune 500 companies where some spending is dedicated to LBGT-owned businesses.
It [the chamber] brings us access to corporations so we can help build our business, and it validates us, in a way," Almonte explained. "We are accepted, celebrated, and together we will be elevated through these opportunities."Read more
Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight
New Jersey’s network of family-planning facilities has lost $50 million in state funding over the past eight years, a reduction that is making it harder for women to get birth control, cancer screenings, and other services, according to advocates for these providers.
While the situation in the Garden State is not new, these advocates argue it is made even more precarious this year by efforts among some Republicans in Congress to limit federal payments to Planned Parenthood clinics.
Planned Parenthood leaders and providers joined Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), on a call with reporters Thursday to share their concerns about the continued loss of $7.5 million in annual funding for family-planning services, a longstanding budget line that Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, eliminated in 2010. Six clinics have closed since then, in Burlington, Cumberland, Hudson and Morris counties.
“We know these types of actions and funding cuts have clear consequences,” Vainieri Huttle said. “We know if these issues are left untreated they can lead to serious health issues.”Read more
In this era of heightened awareness and “see something, say something” directives, it’s wise for local communities to know if someone in town may be renting out their home or apartment through the proliferation of new short-term rental websites, such as Airbnb or FlipKey.
Essentially, these short-term rentals are creating hotels in neighborhoods that are zoned for residential dwellings, which, in turn creates issues of public safety and security in local communities.
Currently, these types of short-term rentals made available through transient space marketplaces are not regulated.
While this relatively new venture may seem like a cheap alternative to traditional hotels and motels, we’ve heard from many local officials and constituents who have legitimate concerns over this unregulated and burgeoning industry, including the inability to know who may be staying in their communities and their impact on the local quality of life.
On the other side of the coin, this lack of regulation also leaves consumers vulnerable because they have no way of knowing if the property they are renting is safe, up to code and insured.Read more
Andew Wyrich, The Record
Both state and national LGBT rights organizations sharply rebuked the recent revelation that the 2020 Census will not include questions related to gender identity or sexual orientation.
An earlier draft of “planned subjects” for the 2020 Census included a proposal to include sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time – however that inclusion was left out of the report delivered to Congress earlier this week.
The Census and American Community Survey collects information on socio-economic trends and housing statistics that are used to allocate billions of dollars to local and state governments. The goal is to get a “complete and accurate” census, said John H. Thompson, the bureau’s director.
The decision to remove the proposal drew fierce pushback from both state and national organizations that promote LGBT equality. Not including LGBT in the counting process could have rippling effects throughout the country, activists said.
Christian Fuscarino, the executive director of Garden State Equality, said that he was “disturbed” by the decision not to collect data on gender identity and sexual orientation in the census and that the exclusion made it clear to him that the federal government saw the community as “invisible.”
“This is one of many small attacks on the LGBT community the Trump administration has in the works,” Fuscarino said. “We won’t see our rights wiped away in one swoop, instead it will be by small – but impactful – attacks like this against our community. … I feel uncomfortable knowing our nation is moving backwards when we spent the last eight years moving forward on these issues.”
Fuscarino feared that by not including LGBT data, money would not make its way to critical health resources members of the community rely on.
“A lot of health organizations receive federal funding, and if these health organizations aren’t receiving federal funding to help the LGBT community, we will see a lot more numbers in terms of STDs, HIV, AIDS and other health items that affect LGBT people,” Fuscarino said.Read more
Dustin Racioppi, The Record
Gov. Chris Christie on Monday signed a bill authorizing $400 million in spending on transportation projects over the next three months.
The spending is in addition to the $1.6 billion the state has already dedicated to road and bridge work from its Transportation Trust Fund for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The bill Christie signed Monday, A-98, dedicates $260 million to road and bridge projects and $140 million to NJ Transit for safety and technology upgrades.
"DOT is ready. The project list is done. There's something in all 21 counties across the state, so everyone is going to see improvement from this in every corner of the state of New Jersey," Christie said at a bill-signing ceremony at the Laborers' International Union of North America's South Jersey chapter, in Bordentown.
NJ Transit adds $32.5 million for positive train control
Christie did not take questions after signing the bill, declining to address a Washington Post report that he will lead a national drug commission focused on combating opioid abuse. President Donald Trump is expected to make an announcement later this week, The Post reported. The two met for lunch last month to discuss drug policy.
Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
TRENTON -- The drug used to reverse a heroin overdose that has saved more than 10,000 lives in New Jersey would be available at pharmacies without a prescription, under a bill the state Assembly approved Thursday.
The lower house approved the legislation by a 74-0 vote, sending it to the Senate for a final vote. Although he has not publicly commented on the bill, Gov. Chris Christie is expected to sign it into law, as he has made combatting heroin and opioid addiction a hallmark of his administration.
Christie signed an emergency order in 2014 allowing the state's 28,000 emergency medical technicians to administer the antidote if they were trained on how to use it. The drug, better known by its commercial name, Narcan, is available through schools.
Heroin and opioid-drug overdoses killed 1,600 people in New Jersey in 2015.Read more
Larry Higgs, NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Gov. Chris Christie's proposal to pump $400 million into state transportation projects this fiscal year is a signature away from reality.
The idea that Christie proposed during his budget address on Feb. 28 now goes to his desk after being approved by the state Assembly Thursday.
The Assembly approved a revised bill Thursday by a vote of 67 to 3, with four members abstaining. It allocates $260 million for roads and bridges and $140 million to NJ Transit projects. It brings the fiscal year 2017 expenditure of money for projects from the Transportation Trust Fund to a total of $2 billion for the year to tackle the backlog of projects.
"I think accelerating the expenditure of TTF funds is a good thing, as it's in accord with the program goal of $2 billion per year," said Martin Robins, director emeritus of the Voorhees Transportation Institute at Rutgers. "I would feel more comfortable with this bill, if the administration had been required to identify how the money would be used."
Robins said NJ Transit would likely use its share to comply with a federal deadline of Dec. 2018 to make a safety system known as Positive Train Control operational.Read more
Michael Booth, New Jersey Law Journal
The New Jersey State Assembly has approved a bill that, if enacted, would bar the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the region's airports and seaports, from assisting federal authorities in enforcing President Donald Trump's recent attempts to bar citizens from several predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States.
In a 48-25 vote split along party lines on Thursday, the Assembly approved S3006. It passed the Senate in a 22-13 vote on Feb. 13. It now goes to Republican Gov. Chris Christie, a staunch Trump supporter who is expected to veto the measure, but did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
"Some of the world's most desperate people are fleeing their home countries to seek safety in the United States. President Trump's ban is founded upon falsehoods—from the suggestion that refugees haven't already been thoroughly vetted to the notion that they want to cause Americans harm," said one of the sponsors in the lower house, Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-Bergen, in a statement. "New Jersey is fundamentally opposed to this ill-conceived measure, and we must take steps to prevent its enforcement."
For the bill to have any effect, it must be signed by Christie and an identical measure would have to be enacted by New York's Legislature. Republicans who control the Senate in New York have blocked that state's version.Read more
Lilo H. Stainton, NJ Spotlight
A crowded, noisy emergency room is not the right environment for people having a mental-health crisis, experts argue
ew Jersey lawmakers are seeking to significantly expand initial screening programs for mental illness in an effort to divert patients in crisis from hospital emergency rooms into more appropriate community-based treatment.
In recent years, hospital officials have seen a growing number of patients with psychiatric problems flocking to their emergency departments when they are unable to find affordable care elsewhere. This results in less effective patient care and higher healthcare costs overall, experts note.
On Monday, an Assembly panel was the first legislative body to approve measures to beef up early intervention services (EIS) for individuals with mental illness and ensure each of New Jersey’s 21 counties have locally based programs — effectively doubling the number of sites currently operating. The proposals, introduced in January and crafted with significant input from hospital officials and mental health providers, are designed to better identify patients that need help and connect them with local mental health programs before they end up in the emergency room.
“We heard concerns time and time again relating to crisis services throughout the state,” said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Bergen), who led a series of roundtable discussions on the topic over the past year, a process that drew praise from several participants. “Early intervention and support is paramount when it comes to behavioral health care. With these bills, we will be taking commonsense steps to improve and modernize our services, benefiting patients and their families.”Read more