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February 6, 2009

Re:      Legislative Update (Three Issues)
                               I.      Pension Payment Deferral Bill Update, Amendment Adopted
                              II.    Law Officers Appeal of Suspension A-3481/S-1336
                              III.  Inherently Beneficial Uses

Dear Mayor:

Here’s an update on three key developments from yesterday’s Assembly Session.

I.   Pension Payment Deferral Bill Amended

The Assembly has adopted our amendment to protect taxpayers in municipalities electing to fully fund their annual pension liabilities. We expect the Senate to consider the amendment to S-7 (Senate President Codey’s version of the proposal) on February 23, when it is next scheduled to meet for a voting session.

The Governor still hopes to be able to sign the bill prior to his March 10 Budget Address to the Legislature. We will advise you of further developments.

Please contact your State Senator and urge support for the full funding option amendment, opposition to any further amendments that could limit local management flexibility, and passage of the appropriately amended bill.

Also contact your representatives in the General Assembly. Thank them for the amendment to A-3688, which was promoted by that version’s sponsor, Assemblyman Joseph Cryan. And urge them to support the bill, in its current form.

In addition to Assemblymen Cryan and his co-sponsor, Assemblyman Gary Schaer, we thank Governor Corzine and his senior staff, as well as Treasurer David Rousseau and Division of Pensions and Benefits’ Director Fred Beaver for their help with the amendment and the legislation.

For more information on this, contact Jon Moran at 609-695-3481, ext. 121.

II.   Law Officers Appeal of Suspension A-3481/S-1336
                       
The General Assembly released legislation which provides certain protections for suspended law enforcement officers. The suspended officers and firefighters would regain their pay status when appeals of termination are not resolved within 180 days. Passage of this legislation, A-3481, would, in fact, supersede local collective bargaining agreements. 

Existing state statutes and regulations in both civil service and non-civil service jurisdictions already govern suspensions for law enforcement officers.  For example, the appointing authority has forty-five (45) days to file a complaint on an employee charging him/her with a violation of internal rule and regulations. In civil service jurisdictions, an employee suspended without pay is entitled to a departmental hearing within thirty (30) days and the departmental decision must be rendered within twenty (20) days of the hearing. An appeal of the decision must be filed within twenty (20) days.   In non-civil service jurisdictions, a departmental hearing must be commenced within thirty (30) days from the service of the complaint, and the employee can appeal his/her discipline to the Superior Court by filing an application within 10 (ten) days from the date the appointing authority issues a decision on the charge(s).  An employee unjustly suspended that is cleared of any charges is already entitled to remedial relief, including reinstatement, back pay and attorney fees.

Individual members of a department may be disciplined, through suspension without pay, because they have blatantly violated department rules, misused department equipment, been involved in domestic disputes, inappropriately used their authority, or any other number of reasons for which discipline would be warranted.  During this period of discipline, there is a specific grievance procedure, which is established as part of a collective bargaining agreement.  If an officer is suspended without pay, it is covered by the Standard Operating Procedures of the department and collective bargaining agreement of the particular bargaining group.  This bill unilaterally suggests there is a need for legislative intervention and that intervention should supersede already existing statutes and regulations and the collective negotiations process. 

The duly elected mayors and governing bodies are charged with the responsibility of leading and operating their municipalities.  In doing such, they collectively negotiate with the employee representative.  Due process is something which is part of the local contractual mandate for mayors and governing bodies.  To arbitrarily establish a 180 day limit, through state legislation, is an attempt to strip mayors and governing bodies of their right to collectively negotiate with employees. This would be the wrong action and wrong message. 

Moreover, A-3481 raises an unfunded state mandate concern. The local unit is required to pay the salary of the suspended officer during any appeal process. If charges against the officer are sustained, the municipality would be placed in the most difficult position of trying to recoup money from someone who had not been working.

A-3481 was released from the General Assembly by 76-0 vote.  The senate companion, S-1336 is scheduled for Senate vote on Monday. In all likelihood, the two bills will be merged.

We urge you to immediately contact your Senator and express vehement opposition to this legislation.

III.    Inherently Beneficial Uses

On Monday, the Assembly Telecommunications Committee will consider A-3062, which defines “…the term “inherently beneficial use” for the purposes of zoning use variance and specifically includes facilities that supply electrical energy produced from wind, solar, or photovoltaic technologies.”

While the League supports the development of alternate energies, we believe that by defining in statute “inherently beneficial use” for the purposes of these efforts sets a bad precedent.  If a use is deemed to be “inherently beneficial” it presumptively satisfied the criteria for a use variance under subsection d of section 57 of the MLUL, (i.e., a nonconforming use.)

The League has opposed past efforts to introduce a definition for “inherently beneficial use” because special interests have sought additional amendments to exempt their constituencies.    If indeed a project is beneficial to the community, the applicant has the option to go through the normal regulatory and democratic process.     No such change in the statute is necessary.

We recommend contacting your Assembly representatives and ask them to oppose A-3062.   Further, the Senate companion, S-1303, stands at 2nd reading in State Senate, and can be scheduled for a vote at any time.  Thus, we also suggest asking your State Senator to oppose S-1303.

For more information on this bill, please contact Mike Cerra at mcerra@njslom.com or 609-695-3481 x120.
Very truly yours,

 

William G. Dressel, Jr.

Executive Director

 

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