John Reitmeyer, NJ Spotlight

Train accidents, fare hikes, and service cuts have all been part of NJ Transit’s recent history. Now there’s a bid to give riders and workers effective input to its future

After recent fare hikes, service cutbacks, and a fatal train accident, state lawmakers held hearings in Trenton to investigate New Jersey Transit’s finances and management. But they’ve also been working to change the makeup of the agency’s board to give commuters and labor more say.

A bill that would add two new members to NJ Transit’s board of directors who would have to be regular commuters on the agency’s trains and buses was advanced by a key legislative committee yesterday. The same bill would also give a labor representative who currently sits on the agency’s board full rights as a voting member.

Sponsors and other supporters of the legislation said making the proposed changes to the board’s structure would better connect the agency to the thousands of people who ride NJ Transit trains and buses every day. They also said it would give more weight to concerns about safety and rising commuting costs that daily riders have been raising in recent years, and foster more debate among a board that regularly votes on issues without any dissent.

“In our minds, the more the public can weigh in, the better,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey and co-chair of the New Jersey For Transit coalition. “This is not going to solve everything, but at the very least it gives the public a voice, and it gives transit riders a voice,” he said.

The effort to add commuting members of the public to NJ Transit’s board was launched roughly a year ago on the heels of a 9 percent fare hike and service cuts that went into effect in late 2015. That increase followed a larger, 25 percent hike that was approved by the board in 2010 shortly after Gov. Chris Christie took office; despite complaints from commuters, it was approved without dissent by agency board members.

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Security sought for houses of worship following bomb threats

Suzanne Russell,

Following bomb threats at Jewish community centers across the country, including two in Central Jersey, the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center is calling on the New Jersey Legislature to pass a bill allocating security funds for houses of worship, synagogues and nonprofits.

The Nonprofit Security Grant Pilot Program (A-4253) has been introduced by Assemblywoman Annette Quijano, D-20th District, chair of the Assembly Homeland Security Committee, and colleagues Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle, D-37th District, and Assemblyman Mukherji's, D-33rd District.

The bill was approved Thursday by the Assembly Homeland Security and Preparedness Committee, according to Shane Derris, Quijano's chief of staff, who added that the bill is being positioned to go to the governor for approval this year.

Quijano's district includes Elizabeth, the city where the father of alleged New Jersey and New York bombing suspect Ahmad Khan Rahimi prays at a local mosque that was concerned about backlash.

If passed, the legislation would provide up to a $10,000 state grant per institution eligible to receive a Federal Homeland Security Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) award. The funding would be used to hire security personnel, like official officers, special officers or a security company, at critical junctures throughout the year. The officers would serve to help in evacuations, provide protection in an emergency and act as a deterrent, according to Derris.

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Letter: Put former mayor's name back on building

The Record

When Englewood Cliffs opened its new municipal complex just about 10 years ago, it was appropriately named after former Mayor Joseph Parisi Sr. I am greatly disappointed that current Mayor Mario Kranjac removed his name from the municipal building without even consulting the council. It is disgraceful that the memory of a dignified public servant who devoted his life to his community is literally being thrown in the dumps because of partisan political bickering.

Parisi was an outstanding mayor, a true public servant and a visionary leader. During his 35 years of service, he turned Englewood Cliffs into an economic hub for Bergen County and New Jersey. He worked tirelessly, attracting major corporations to the Route 9W corridor, an area that is now called the "Trillion Dollar Mile."

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New Jersey Assembly approves bills to rescue kids, animals in vehicles

Keith Globe, Land Line

Truck drivers and other good Samaritans in New Jersey who come across distressed animals or people in parked vehicles soon may no longer have to concern themselves with legal repercussions for stepping in to provide aid.
There are 23 states, including the Garden State, with laws that regulate leaving an animal in a parked vehicle. Rules in 24 states make it illegal to leave a child unattended in a vehicle.

Ten states have Good Samaritan laws specific to rescuing children left in vehicles. They are: Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. The states of Florida, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin include animals in the rules.

Two bills halfway through the New Jersey statehouse would grant immunity to concerned citizens who break into a locked vehicle to save a person or pet from extreme temperatures. The bills do not specify temperatures or conditions in order for a person to act.

Assembly lawmakers unanimously approved one bill, A4079, to provide civil immunity for anyone who forcibly enters a vehicle to remove unattended and unsupervised children who might be at risk.

Rescuers, however, would first be required to take multiple steps before acting. The steps include determining there is no other “reasonable method” to remove the child and they must have already alerted emergency personnel.

“If a child is in immediate danger and the authorities have been notified, a good Samaritan should not have to be concerned with the cost of damages to the vehicle if they are trying to save a child’s life,” Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, said in a released statement.

Vehicles parked in direct sunlight can reach internal temperatures between 131-172 degrees when outside temperatures range from 80-100 degrees, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Outside temperatures in the 60s can cause internal temps to rise above 110 degrees.

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The struggle for transgender rights isn't surprising

The Record

Last week, The Record published “Joe Loses Spot in Pack” about Joe Maldonado, an 8-year-old child who was kicked out of Cub Scout Pack 87 because he is transgender. After a month of his membership, the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts informed the Maldonado family that other parents complained about including a transgender boy in the pack.

The actions taken by the Northern New Jersey Council of Boy Scouts against Joe Maldonado are sad and unfair, but not surprising.  In recent years, we have seen the LGBT community make tremendous strides, especially in 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down the ban on same-sex marriage. Transgender citizens, however, are still struggling in their own fight for equality.

When I was working on the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights several years ago, I learned that transgender youth face some of the harshest treatment from their peers, often because of fear or sheer ignorance. These children and adolescents merely want to live as their true selves without shame and out of hiding. They should be entitled to this right without societal justification.

In 2012, I introduced legislation to ensure that citizens who have undergone clinically appropriate sex change treatments, such as hormone therapy, may change their gender on their birth certificates. This bill serves as an important step for members of the transgender community to live authentically. This is a particularly critical issue for transgender youth, who are often not eligible for sex reassignment surgery until their later teen years.

Yet, while the legislation passed both the Assembly and the state Senate, Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it twice, citing legal uncertainties and security concerns. I certainly would not find 8-year-old Joe Maldonado to be a security threat if he wants to change his birth certificate.  Unfortunately, Christie does not see it this way and has been able to block this common-sense records update.

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N.J. Assembly OKs stricter scrutiny of group homes for disabled

Susan K. Livio, NJ Advance Media for

TRENTON -- The state Assembly voted Monday to impose stricter rules on the private agencies that operate group homes for people with developmental disabilities.

The bill (A2503) is named for Stephen Komninos, a 22-year-old man who died in 2007 when he was left unsupervised against medical orders, and choked to death on a bagel.

Assemblywoman Valerie Vainer Huttle (D-Bergen), the prime sponsor of the legislation, praised the Komninos family for channeling their grief "to make sure no other parent goes through this."

Stephen's father, Thomas Komninos of Upper Saddle River was so moved by the Assembly's support of the bill, he could barely speak after the vote.

Aileen Rivera of Wayne and Martha Cray of Roselle Park, mothers whose disabled sons have suffered abuse in the care of state-licensed or state-run facilities, hugged him and wept.

"We're grateful to the overwhelming response from the Assembly. It hopefully it sends a message to the Senate that this is the right thing to do," Komninos said.

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New Jersey considers regulating tests of self-driving cars

Phil Gregory, Newsworks 

A measure under consideration by New Jersey lawmakers would regulate testing self-driving vehicles on state roadways.

The proposal would ensure there are some requirements for self-driving cars that would be on the roads with insured drivers, said Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, the bill sponsor

"You've seen the pictures where there's an autonomous car where you ... have a table in the middle and have coffee with four people, and the person who should be in the driver's seat has their back turned to the road," said Lampitt, D-Camden. "Those are the cars that we need to be more diligent about to make sure the testing is being done safely."

The legislation calls for manufacturers to secure state Motor Vehicle Commission approval that an autonomous vehicle is safe to operate. And a driver must be behind the wheel to take control if necessary.

Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle said that's important in a state with some of the worst traffic congestion in the nation.

"Changing lanes and keeping the speed limit, I feel there are some many challenges to this. An autonomous car would obey the speed limits," said Huttle, D-Bergen. "Think about how slow these cars would be going on the New Jersey Turnpike because most of us have that flexibility."

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Road Warrior: No more long, long motor vehicle lines?

John Cichowski, The Record


Totowa's Ray Galvano could hardly believe it Tuesday when he saw there was no line outside the old Motor Vehicle Commission office in Wayne, a pleasant surprise that allowed him to get a new auto registration and title in barely 30 minutes.

"Usually, it takes me 2 or 2½ hours," said the unemployed taxi driver. "What's going on?"

On Monday, another Ray — Martinez (the one who runs the MVC) — explained it all to the skeptics on the New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee at a hearing in Trenton: Technology upgrades, mobile vans and building expansions, like the one that's already started in Wayne, are among the strategies designed to "ameliorate" the chronic waits that have plagued New Jersey motorists since they began driving as teens, said the agency's chief administrator.

“Sounds terrific," said Committee Vice Chairwoman Valerie Vanieri Huttle, with a weary trace of "we've-heard-this-song-before" in her voice. "That doesn’t translate to a lot of satisfaction for our constituents,” added the Englewood Democrat.

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'Light at the end of the tunnel' for Bergen Regional

Mary Jo Layton, The Record

A set of qualified bidders to take the helm could signal a new start for the hospital of last resort.

Bergen Regional Medical Center is many things — a nursing home, a detox center and psychiatric facility — but there's one thing it's not: a destination hospital. Even after two decades of private management, the state's largest hospital is still the treatment center of last resort for most patients.

But for the first time in years, key health care companies with proven records are interested in taking the reins, with a goal of transforming the county-owned Paramus hospital into a model of quality and cost-effective care.

The payoff could be enormous — for the uninsured or homeless who rely on Bergen Regional, for the families forced to seek addiction or psychiatric services outside the state due to long waits or insurance issues, and for taxpayers who pick up the tab with little accountability in how their money is spent. And with a heroin crisis driving up addiction rates that are far outpacing treatment resources, an improved, if not expanded hospital wouldn't come a moment too soon.

"I think there's a light at the end of the tunnel,'' said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Teaneck, who has spent years highlighting shortcomings in care and accountability at the hospital. "There are seemingly strong partnerships ready to take over the operation of the hospital on behalf of the residents and people who need the services."

This month, seven entities submitted bids including a coalition of five hospitals — Hackensack University Medical Center, Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, Valley Health System in Ridgewood, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, and Christian Health Center in Wyckoff. The hospitals would hire the Carrier Clinic, a treatment center in Belle Meade, to run operations.

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Senator compares Cuomo to Christie as Jersey officials fight for bus terminal

Matt Friedman, Politico

HACKENSACK — Is Andrew Cuomo pulling a Chris Christie?

State Senator Loretta Weinberg, at least, sees a similarity in the way the two governors treat the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“This is a governor trying to take control of the Port Authority through manipulation, intimidation and bullying,” said Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat who co-chaired the Legislature’s investigation into the George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal, referring to Cuomo. “We in New Jersey are already familiar with that.”

New Jersey lawmakers — especially those in North Jersey who have many commuter constituents — desperately want a replacement to the decrepit Port Authority Bus Terminal, and had secured a place for it in the agency’s 10-year capital plan.

But as POLITICO reported this week, Cuomo and Post Authority chairman John Degnan can't come to terms on the amount of money to be spent on the bus terminal. Degnan, a New Jersey appointee, wants roughly $3.5 billion. Cuomo, whose top authority-related priorities are upgrades to Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, wants no more than $2 billion.

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