In Our Community

Mosquera Unveils Legislation to Protect Victims of Domestic Violence

Find the release on the AssemblyDems website.

(TRENTON) – Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera, Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald and Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg introduced legislation on Thursday to strengthen New Jersey’s gun laws and protect victims of domestic violence from gun violence.

“For victims and their children, domestic violence turns a chance to live the American Dream into a horrific nightmare. I know, because I’ve lived that nightmare,” said Mosquera (D-Gloucester/Camden). “Too many victims are killed before they ever have a chance to get out, at the hands of abusers who have easy access to firearms. This legislation will change that – strengthening our gun violence laws in order to protect victims of domestic violence.”

“Study after study tells us that domestic violence and firearms are a deadly combination,” said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). “But these numbers are not just statistics. They represent real lives that have been shattered. We’re taking this issue head-on and strengthening our gun laws to save those lives.”

“Gun violence perpetrated against women often stems from domestic violence incidents that escalate and turn tragic,” said Weinberg (D-Bergen). “We have to do more to protect the lives of women and children who find themselves in a dangerous family situation. By imposing stronger laws that limit abusers’ access to firearms we will better protect victims against preventable and, too often, fatal gun violence.”

The facts about domestic abuse and firearms access are sobering:
· A 2014 study from the Violence Policy Center examining 2012 homicide data reported that 52 percent of females who were murdered were killed with a gun;
· This study further found that, of those females who were killed with a gun, 61 percent were killed by their male intimate partners – and that most often, females were killed by males in the course of an argument; and
· The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence recently reported that for 2011, 53.6 percent of female homicide victims in New Jersey were killed in domestic violence incidents.

“New Jersey has strong gun laws, but all too often, these laws fail to sufficiently protect victims of domestic violence,” said Mosquera. “Today, we are saying enough is enough and taking action to change that.”

Among other provisions, the bill would:
· Require domestic abusers to surrender their firearms while a domestic violence restraining order is in effect, or when they are convicted of a domestic violence crime or offense;
· Require an abuser’s firearms purchaser identification cards and permits to purchase a handgun to be suspended during domestic violence restraining orders;
· Require an abuser’s firearms purchaser identification cards and permits to purchase a handgun to be revoked if the individual is convicted of a domestic violence crime or offense; and
· Require cross-referencing of records to assist in determining whether an alleged domestic abuser owns a firearm in order to assist law enforcement’s ability to ensure that an abuser does not have access to firearms.

“This bill is a step in the right direction for New Jersey’s victims of domestic violence,” said Mosquera. “Today is the beginning of the process, and I look forward to working closely with the victims’ advocates as we move forward.”

Moriarty Bill to Protect Black Box Data in Cars Advances to Senate

Find the release on the AssemblyDems website.

(TRENTON) – Assembly approved legislation Assemblymen Paul Moriarty and Daniel Benson sponsored to limit access to data from devices in automobiles that can capture information about the driver’s activity cleared a Senate panel on Thursday.

“The preservation of electronic data from any of these sources is becoming vital to the defense of litigation in accidents,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “These recordings may be the most reliable and objective source of information about the events that occurred just prior to a crash. This legislation is necessary to preserve the integrity of the recordings and protect what may be used as evidence in court.”

“Crash data retrieved from a vehicle’s black box can play a critical role in determining what exactly happened at the time of an accident, but it’s always essential that sensitive information doesn’t get into the wrong hands,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This legislation eliminates the ambiguity about whether this information is the property of the car’s owner, its manufacturer or someone else. Even more importantly, this bill promotes drivers’ safety while guarding their privacy.”
Under the bill (A-3579), persons other than the owner of the motor vehicle that contains the recording device, or the owner’s representative, are prohibited from retrieving, obtaining, or using data recorded, stored, or transmitted from the recording device, unless:
· the owner, or the owner’s representative, consents to the duration and scope of data retrieval, retention, and use, prior to or at the time the data is retrieved, obtained, or used;
· the recorded data is retrieved or obtained by a law enforcement officer pursuant to a search warrant issued by a Superior Court judge or upon order by a court of competent jurisdiction or, in the case of recorded data other than vehicle location, a grand jury subpoena;
· the recorded data is used for the purpose of improving motor vehicle safety, including security, performance, operation, compliance with traffic laws, traffic management, or medical research, provided that the identity of the owner, operator or other occupant of the vehicle is not disclosed;
· the recorded data is retrieved or obtained by a licensed new motor vehicle dealer, a motor vehicle repair or servicing facility and a technician or mechanic at such a facility, or the manufacturer of the motor vehicle, and used for the sole purpose of diagnosing, servicing, or repairing the motor vehicle;
· the recorded data is accessed by an emergency response provider and used for the sole purpose of determining the need for or facilitating an emergency medical response in the event of a motor vehicle crash; or
· the recorded data is retrieved or obtained pursuant to a legally proper discovery request or order in a civil action.
Also under the bill, recorded data may be retrieved, obtained, and used by a subscription service provider if the subscription service agreement discloses that the data may be recorded, stored, and transmitted.

The bill also prohibits the alteration or deletion of data on a recording device or the destruction of a recording device with the intent to prevent access to or destroy the recorded data after a crash resulting in bodily injury or death for a period of two years following the crash, and establishes a $5,000 civil penalty for a violation. The alteration or deletion of data by a recording device with an overwriting or rewriting program or function, which is activated during the vehicle’s normal operation, would not be considered a knowing alteration or deletion and therefore not subject to the civil penalty.

Finally, the bill establishes a rebuttable presumption that a vehicle recycler or scrap recycling facility has no knowledge of the involvement of a vehicle in a crash event that resulted in bodily injury or death.

The bill was advanced Thursday by the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee.

Madden Legislation Establishing Medicaid Smart Card Pilot Program Clears Committee

Read the full release on the Senate Dems website.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Fred Madden that would establish a Medicaid Smart Card Pilot Program cleared the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee today.

“Smart cards contain a secure microchip that would store information about the Medicaid user, which would make the utilization of the program more efficient for enrollees and help to protect against fraud within the system,” said Senator Madden (D-Gloucester, Camden). “This initiative will also prevent improper billing practices and reduce previous forms of abuse and fraud. It is time we provide a smart card pilot program that can make the process more effective and efficient, and potentially reduce the total amount of Medicaid expenditures for the public.”

The bill, S1250, would establish the Medicaid Smart Card Pilot Program within the Division of Medical Assistance and Health Services (DMAHS) of the Department of Human Services (DHS). Under the bill, the DHS Commissioner would determine the geographic area to be included in the pilot program. The pilot program would be required to include: enrollment of designated recipients as pilot program participants; distribution of Medicaid Smart Cards to those recipients, to be used by them in lieu of their current Medicaid eligibility identification cards; authentication of designated recipients at the point of transaction, at the onset and completion of each transaction, in order to prevent card sharing and other forms of abuse or fraud; denial of ineligible persons at the point of transaction; authentication of providers at the point of transaction to prevent phantom billing and other forms of abuse or fraud; and any efforts necessary to secure and protect the personal identity and information of designated recipients.

Medicaid fraud is a costly and pervasive issue in New Jersey. A State Comptroller’s Office report uncovered $122.8 million in improper Medicaid spending in FY 2012. A smart card is a credit card-sized plastic card with an embedded, secure microchip or USB capability. Unlike an ordinary credit or debit card, which stores data on a magnetic stripe, a smart card can both contain and process information. The cards serve to authenticate both the Medicaid recipient and the health care provider. As a result, the card would protect against card sharing and forms of provider fraud, such as phantom billing.

Several states, including Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New York have undertaken smart card pilot programs for public benefit programs or have enacted legislation to create such programs.

It cleared the Committee by a vote of 7-0. The bill now heads to the Budget and Appropriations Committee.

Moriarty Bill Establishing Commission to Recommend Ways of Making NJ Colleges Affordable Now Law

A bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats John Wisniewski, Dan Benson, Pamela Lampitt, Paul Moriarty, Benjie Wimberly and Carmelo G. Garcia to create a task force charged with studying different ways to help make college more affordable for New Jersey students has been signed into law.

“Rising tuition costs are placing unbearable financial burdens on New Jersey college students and families,” said Wisniewski (D-Middlesex). “The findings of the commission have the potential to open doors for students who otherwise could not afford a college education. Making higher education more affordable not only helps these students, but the state, which benefits from a well-educated workforce.”

“It is a terrible tragedy when our best and brightest cannot further their education due to the rising cost of college tuition,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “The commission will examine all avenues to make higher education in New Jersey more affordable and accessible to our students.”

“We lose many of our high school graduates to colleges and universities in other states. This migration hurts our schools and it hurts us as a state since many of these students will take jobs and settle in these states,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Making our schools more affordable can help us better compete, and keep students who after graduation will help contribute to our economy. This new law will help us accomplish this goal.”

“The reality is that those with a college education have a real edge in today’s job market,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “This commission is about giving more students in New Jersey the means to access a degree and better equip themselves to fulfill the needs of employers.”

“There should be no reason that a student who has the academic ability, the determination and the discipline to succeed in college and pursue his or her goals should be denied an education,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “We need to make a serious effort to ensure that all New Jersey students can attend college if they so choose, and this law will go a long way toward that mission.”

“Colleges in New Jersey can open up so many doors for students, but unfortunately, having enough money to go is a prerequisite many students can’t fulfill,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “This commission is about tapping into the potential of one of New Jersey’s greatest resources – residents who are ready and willing to learn and later give back to our state.”

The law (A-2236) establishes a College Affordability Study Commission for the purpose of examining issues and developing recommendations to increase the affordability of higher education in New Jersey.

The commission will be charged with studying issues related to increasing the affordability of higher education in the state, including:

· the creation of an Accelerated Degree Pilot Program which would offer high performing high school students interested in pursuing a medical degree or graduate-level science or engineering degree the opportunity of receiving that degree earlier than would be possible under a traditional program;
· the creation of an Affordable Degree Pilot Program which would allow students to earn a baccalaureate degree at a discounted tuition rate through a degree program partnership between a county college and a four-year public institution of higher education, with the student completing the first two years of the program at the participating county college;
· the creation of a Pay It Forward Pilot Program to replace the current system of charging students tuition and fees for enrollment at public institutions of higher education and allow students to instead pay back a percentage of their income for a certain number of years;
· methods to increase the performance of the New Jersey Better Educational Savings Trust (NJBEST), including, but not limited to: setting specific high standards for the selection of the investment manager to ensure that the program is ranked nationally as one of the best based on rate of return, expense ratios, and other relevant criteria; improving investment options available to the investor, such as options that permit customers more flexibility to customize their portfolios; determining possible alternatives to the NJBEST Scholarship, such as an annual state matching amount per beneficiary without the requirement of the beneficiary attending a state institution of higher education; and allowing a gross income tax deduction for amounts contributed to NJBEST accounts;
· changes to the New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students (NJCLASS) Loan Program that will increase disclosure and make the program more consumer-friendly for student and parent borrowers including, but not limited to: advertisement of the Annual Percentage Rate for NJCLASS loans in addition to the interest rate; options for a borrower to choose either a co-signer or guarantor on a loan; an option for deferred loan payment of principal and interest while in school with a 10-15 year repayment period; and NJCLASS loan consolidation interest rates that more closely reflect market conditions; and
· any other proposals that the commission believes would increase the affordability of higher education in the state

The law directs the commission’s report to be submitted to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the General Assembly no later than 18 months after the commission organizes. The commission will expire 30 days after the submission of its report.

Having received amendments to concur with a previous conditional veto, the legislation was approved unanimously by both the Assembly and the Senate.

Mosquera Bill to Help Empower Teens to Seek Mental Health Treatment Clears Assembly

Read the full release on the AssemblyDems website.

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Carmelo G. Garcia, Raj Mukherji, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Charles Mainor, Tim Eustace and Gabriela Mosquera to help empower minors to seek treatment for mental illness and emotional disorders was approved, 67-3-1, by the full Assembly on Thursday.

“This bill takes into account the fears and stigmas associated with mental illness, particularly for young people,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “Hopefully by creating a more private means for them to seek treatment we can drastically improve and ultimately save lives. I’m grateful to the young men and women of the Hudson County Boys and Girls Club who prompted me to sponsor this legislation.”

The bill (A-3435) is designated as the “Boys & Girls Clubs Keystone Law” in honor of the members of the Keystone Club of the Hudson County Boys & Girls Clubs who were concerned about suicide and self harm among teenagers.

“It’s inspiring to see the young men and women of the Hudson County Boys & Girls Club concerned with the welfare of their peers,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “They understand, firsthand, what it’s like dealing with these hurdles as teens. This legislation will allow teens in need to seek mental health treatment and, hopefully, aid in preventing suicides.”

Specifically, the bill would amend current law to permit a minor to give consent for behavioral health care for the treatment of mental illness or emotional disorders.

“Research has shown that one of the greatest barriers to mental health treatment for teens is stigma,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Millions of young people forego treatment every year because of this. Hopefully this bill will help them overcome that and seek the much-needed help they deserve.”

The bill provides that the minor’s consent to treatment under the supervision of a physician, an individual licensed to provide professional counseling, including, but not limited to, a psychiatrist, licensed practicing psychologist, certified social worker, licensed clinical social worker, licensed social worker, licensed marriage and family therapist, certified psychoanalyst, licensed psychologist or licensed clinical social worker, or in a health care facility would be valid and binding as if the minor were an adult.

“Social acceptance plays a huge role in the lives of teens,” said Mainor (D-Hudson). “If they’re afraid to talk to a parent or guardian about any mental health issues or emotional disorders they might be experiencing then they may never seek the treatment they need. This bill can change all that.”

Additionally, under the bill, the treatment would be considered confidential information between the physician, the individual who is licensed to provide professional counseling, or the health care facility, as appropriate, and the patient.

“Breaking down cultural ‘norms’ and overcoming stigma is hard at any age, but can feel impossible as a teen,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “By granting them the same measure of privacy afforded to adults, hopefully we can help them overcome whatever fears they may have to seek the treatment they need.”

“Every teen wants their privacy protected and to be treated as an adult,” said Mosquera (D-Camden, Gloucester). “Providing these basic considerations for a New Jersey teen that may potentially need help with mental health issues is crucial to ensuring that our youth receive the help they truly deserve. With this bill, we remove the stigma related to mental illness and emotional illness for our youth will create a direct path to education, treatment and healing.”

The provisions of the bill are similar to those which already permit a minor to consent to treatment for venereal disease, HIV, AIDS, sexual assault, or drug or alcohol abuse.

The bill was approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee on October 9, 2014.

Mosquera Bill Package to Protect Domestic Violence Victims Clears Full Assembly

Read the release on the Assembly Majority Website.

A three-bill package sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Joseph Lagana, Gabriela Mosquera, Craig Coughlin, Pamela Lampitt, Troy Singleton, Daniel Benson and L. Grace Spencer to bolster protections for domestic violence victims in New Jersey gained approval by the full Assembly on Thursday.

The first bill (A-3655), sponsored by Vainieri Huttle, Lagana and Mosquera, is designed to enhance the protections offered under the “New Jersey Safe Housing Act” by prohibiting a landlord from terminating a tenancy, failing to renew a tenancy, or refusing to enter into a rental agreement due to a tenant’s or prospective tenant’s status as a domestic violence victim.

Under the act, a tenant may terminate a lease prior to its expiration if they provide appropriate documentation and written notice that they or their child face an imminent threat of serious physical harm from another person if they remain on the premises.

The bill would amend the act to prohibit a landlord from terminating a tenancy, failing to renew a tenancy, or refusing to enter into a rental agreement based on the tenant’s, applicant’s or household member’s status as a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, or based on the tenant or applicant having terminated a rental agreement pursuant to the Act.

“As we’ve seen all too often lately, domestic violence is still a very pervasive threat in our society. This bill package takes a broader approach to provide the protections necessary to deal with today’s realities,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “Victims of domestic violence must deal with their life being thrown into upheaval. The last thing they need is to have their home uprooted through no fault of their own.”

“This bill package will provide far greater protections for domestic violence victims in New Jersey,” said Lagana (D-Essex). “This measure, in particular, will hopefully provide much-needed stability for domestic violence victims in order to help them overcome the otherwise tumultuous circumstances in their life.”

“Finding adequate housing in a timely manner is often crucial in helping domestic violence victims escape their tormentors,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “We need to ensure that the law is on their side in these circumstances.”

The second bill (A-3813), sponsored by Coughlin, Lampitt, Singleton, Benson, Vainieri Huttle and Mosquera, would add cyber-harassment to the list of crimes considered domestic violence under the “Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991.”

In doing so, the bill would allow temporary and permanent restraining orders on the grounds that the person seeking the order is a victim of cyber-harassment.

“The internet is being used as another way for domestic violence predators to stalk and harass their victims,” said Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “It’s time to put cyber-stalking and harassment on the books to continue to protect domestic violence victims under the law.”

“Predators will go to any length to abuse or make their victim feel unsafe,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Facebook, Twitter, email and other Internet-based services have become tools for perpetrators to inspire fear. Adding this method to the list of domestic violence offenses is necessary to strengthen protections for victims.”

“Cyber-harassment, while terrifying in itself, often precedes physical harassment or harm,” said Singleton (D-Burlington). “This bill will help provide the protections necessary to hopefully prevent it from escalating to that point.”

“When the Domestic Violence Prevention Act was first written, cyber-harassment wasn’t even part of our vernacular yet,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “Today it’s a frightening reality for far too many people, one that must be treated with the same severity as the many other crimes included in our domestic violence statues.”

The last measure (A-3846), sponsored by Lagana, Vainieri Huttle and Spencer, provides that a person commits a crime of the third degree if, intending to cause annoyance or injury or intending to commit a crime, the person enters the dwelling of a victim of domestic violence protected by a domestic violence restraining order against the actor.

“Domestic violence victims can live in constant fear for their lives,” said Spencer (D-Essex). “We can strengthen the law to protect victims and help ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their threatening and harmful behavior.”

A crime of the third degree is punishable by three to five years imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. The bill specifies that no presumption of non-incarceration shall apply to anyone convicted of such a crime.

All three bills were approved by a vote of 71-0 and now head to the Senate for consideration.