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Half of bills advanced by Senate this year passed in single day

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Half of bills advanced by Senate this year passed in single day

Jul 06, 2022 | 7:05 am ET
By Nikita Biryukov
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Half of bills advanced by Senate this year passed in single day
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New Jersey Senate President Nicholas Scutari (right) talks with Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (left) and Judge Glenn Grant, administrative director of New Jersey courts, on March 8, 2022, at the Statehouse in Trenton. (Photo by Danielle Richards for the New Jersey Monitor)

Just over half of the bills and resolutions approved by the full Senate this legislative session were voted on in a single day, a New Jersey Monitor review of legislative records found.

In a marathon session on June 29, the eve of the state’s budget deadline, the upper chamber approved 107 bills. In the six months since the new legislative session began Jan. 11, the chamber has approved a total of 213 bills.

The Assembly’s pace was less lopsided — it passed only 81 bills on June 29. But that chamber still had a busy month. More than half of the 216 bills that chamber cleared this session were approved during voting sessions in June. The lower chamber approved 51 bills at its June 16 voting session.

In total, 295 bills won a vote before at least one legislative chamber since January. That pace is in line with past legislative sessions. Since the start of the 2016-2017 legislative session, the chambers have, on average, approved 1,196 bills in each two-year period.

The Monitor reviewed roll calls for each of the 295 bills and, where applicable, their Senate or Assembly counterparts. Some bills were passed through one chamber, amended, and then passed again. In such cases, only the later date in a given chamber was tallied.

For much of the year, the Senate stayed within the 30-bill limit imposed on voting sessions by the chamber’s rules. That rule was routinely waived in past legislative sessions, but this year, the Senate has kept to that limit for all but two of its voting sessions.

It breached it for the first time on June 16, when the chamber approved 35 bills or resolutions, and did so again on June 29, when it held its marathon 106-bill voting session.

A spokesperson for Senate President Nicholas Scutari (D-Union), whose ascent to leadership in January came with slower lawmaking, did not respond to a request for comment. Scutari did not return a call seeking comment.

The upper chamber approved 21 bills on May 26, 28 bills on March 24, 16 bills on March 3, and six bills on Feb. 14.

The Assembly’s rules do not limit how many bills it can consider during a session, though it also kept board lists short for much of this year. Assembly lawmakers approved 31 bills on May 26, 30 on March 24, 21 on Feb. 28, and one each on March 8 and Feb. 14.

Gina Wilder, a spokeswoman for Assembly Democrats, said many of the bills the chamber passed in June had been around for months or longer. The Assembly enacted a new practice this session that stopped committees from amending bills and immediately passing them through committee, she added.

Wilder credited the Assembly’s June acceleration to voting reform, gun control, and anti-hunger bill packages. Some of those measures were heard and amended multiple times in committee before finally reaching the floor last month.

An opaque process — again

Sheila Reynertson is a senior policy analyst at New Jersey Policy Perspective, a progressive think tank.

While the breakneck pace both legislative chambers adopted before lawmakers’ summer break worried her, she said the way some of those bills moved through the legislature was an even bigger concern.

“Many of these bills, including the budget itself, were introduced and passed out of committee at the last minute without an opportunity for the public or key stakeholders to weigh in or even read the bill text,” she said. “We’re talking about tens of billions of dollars in spending without any meaningful oversight. This obviously privileges special interests and paid lobbyists while shutting the public out.”

The criticism lawmakers routinely face over a lack of transparency made a return this June after Democratic legislators in the Senate advanced a voluminous $50.6 billion spending bill out of committee less than 30 minutes after its text reached Republicans on the chamber’s budget and appropriations panel.

The panels last Monday approved several other measures — including a $72 million supplemental spending bill, a bill setting aside $5.2 billion for capital projects and debt reductions, and a measure allowing cannabis firms to receive some governmental economic incentives — before their text became available to the public.

Those bills cleared the full Senate and Assembly two days later, and some have already been signed into law.