2020 WRAP-UP

As we approach the end of 2020, I’m sure many of you are saying “good riddance” and looking forward to 2021. But before we bid farewell to 2020, let’s look at the good in 2020:

  • We achieved JOB JUSTICE for ESPs.
  • We achieved CHAPTER 78 RELIEF.
  • Have you heard about the words PATH TO PROGRESS?
  • BYE-BYE BETSY!

These are not the only things that happened in 2020, though. In politics, the year started with the end of a lame duck session, as the NJ Legislature worked quickly to finish out the 218th session.  The legislature passed the “Path to Poverty” commission, which the governor soon pocket vetoed. In better news, a bill creating a pilot program using a trauma-informed approach to discipline in schools was signed into law.

The 219th legislative session started with promise, as Governor Murphy gave his state of the state. The governor committed to looking at wealth disparity in New Jersey, touted his commitment to tuition-free community college education and increasing aid to schools, and said he would work to reinstate the millionaires tax. Murphy followed through with his budget proposal which included more money for schools, a full pension payment, an increased surplus, and funds for lead remediation.

In March, Senate President Sweeney announced that the Senate would pass our job justice and health insurance bills. Then…. Coronavirus. The state shut down and schools and colleges went remote. Governor Murphy began daily briefings. On March 16, he issued executive order (EO) 104 closing schools effective the 18th, followed by EO 105 to address upcoming local elections.  The legislature continued to meet in-person, needing to create a framework around COVID.  True to his promise, Senator Sweeney posted and passed our job justice and health benefits bills.

As April arrived, the legislature began meeting remotely. The houses passed a bill to allow remote instruction days to count towards the 180-day requirement, with a provision (worked on by NJEA) to ensure that school employees got paid as if school was in-person. The legislature also enshrined the governor’s decision to move the NJ Primary election date. Statewide assessment and graduation rules were suspended by EO 117. The legislature postponed the state budget deadline to September 30, announcing there would be a “mini-budget” to cover July, August, and September. We started pounding the Assembly, reminding them that we were waiting for their house to pass our bills.

Both houses of the legislature continued meeting remotely in May. Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet announced he would be leaving the NJ Department of Education (DOE) over the summer to become President of Kean University. State Treasurer Liz Muoio gave an updated revenue forecast, and the administration released updated budget numbers for the “mini-budget.”  Foreseeing a $10 billion shortfall over the next two years, the administration proposed issuing bonds so the state could continue to operate. The Assembly quickly passed the legislation.

As June began, Secretary of Higher Education Zakiya Smith-Ellis moved to become the governor’s chief policy advisor. As the month ended, the NJ Department of Education (DOE) issued school reopening guidance, controversial because it did not allow all-remote instruction; the legislature met its June 30 deadline for the “mini-budget” with operating aid for our community colleges cut; and our chapter 78 relief legislation (chapter 44) passed in both houses, signed into law on July 1. (The ESP job justice bills were delayed because of slight variations on the subcontracting bill.) Also on July 1, Repollet formally left the DOE.

As summer continued, colleges reopened for limited clinical, lab, and hands-on instruction.  While July and August are normally very quiet for the legislature, not true in 2020! Between the budget, elections, and the need to catch up on missed days, it seemed there was almost daily legislative activity.  Both houses of the legislature approved the state’s bonding, and the NJ Supreme Court upheld the law. A measure to delay redistricting was approved to go on the November ballot and Murphy signed an EO (177) to conduct the election primarily through mail-in votes. One of our job justice bills (arbitration) was signed into law and the subcontracting bill issue was resolved (to be signed into law in September).

Governor Murphy, with Acting DOE Commissioner Dehmer, released guidance in late July to give parents the option of all-remote education for their children as the debate about school opening raged, followed by EO 175 in August which reopened schools for the fall.  The governor gave his revised budget address at the end of August, calling for a full pension payment, no cuts to K-12 state aid from the prior year but cuts to community college operating aid, and over $4 billion in borrowing. His budget also included a millionaires tax.

Observers of the legislative process complained that this year’s budget process lacked transparency. There was no in-person public testimony on the budget proposal, and only a few of the typical departmental hearings. I was one of three people that testified in person at the Senate budget hearing, a hearing that normally lasts hours. On the other hand, the budget bill was written before that hearing. As one lawmaker quipped, “We actually had the bill written and done the night before the hearing. Often we’re voting on a list of changes in committee without a bill for people to read.” In the end, the budget included most of what the governor wanted, and lawmakers restored community college funding. For public education, it was a good budget.  Community college operating aid was restored, K-12 aid wasn’t cut, and it was the largest pension payment ever.

As election day approached, NJ and the country were on edge. The governor surprised the education community by vetoing a bill to delay QSAC. Dr. Angela Allen-McMillan was announced as the next Commissioner of Education and Dr. Brian Bridges as the next Secretary of Higher Education. In New Jersey, the legislative pace slowed. And while election day might have ended without a clear winner for president, the same cannot be said about marijuana legalization, which was a clear winner on November 3.

Initially, it seemed that enabling legislation – the regulatory framework around marijuana legalization – would be law before Thanksgiving. But as with many things in the legislature, nothing is easy. Drama and controversy ensued over psilocybin mushrooms, marijuana revenue and decriminalization. In fact, when the regulatory framework and decriminalization finally made it to a Senate floor vote (via telephone) on December 17, a fight (of words) broke out.

While the end of this year isn’t a lame duck session, there are so many other issues that got rushed through the legislature that public radio reporter Nancy Solomon referred to this time at the end of December in off-election years as “cooked goose.”  (Listen here:  https://www.wnyc.org/story/transparency-and-good-government-take-back-seat-trenton-rush-pass-bills)  In addition to marijuana and decriminalization (and let’s not forget to include psilocybin mushrooms, which had their own bill), legislation passed both houses that would change Horizon Blue Cross/Blue Shield’s status. (https://www.njspotlight.com/2020/12/horizon-blue-cross-blue-shield-wants-change-corporate-restructure-says-flexible-competitive-legislators-vote-critics-say-goal-for-profit/) And on a voting session added to do this one bill on December 21, the legislature approved a huge corporate tax incentive program (similar to the one that expired) giving billions in tax breaks. (https://www.njspotlight.com/2020/12/nj-massive-corporate-tax-breaks-final-vote-monday-dec-21-fast-tracked-concerns-size-speed/)

In end-of-the-year education news, the legislature moved one step closer to making the Community College Opportunity Grant permanent with the passage of A4410/S2743, which needs a vote in the Senate before it heads to the governor’s desk. The governor and DOE announced another $10 million in preschool aid, and the second bill to postpone QSAC made its way to the governor’s desk – in fact, I have it on good authority that it is being signed today!

It’s been quite the year!  See you again in 2021!

BILLS SIGNED INTO LAW (SINCE THE LAST UPDATE!)

  • A4905/S3045 – Allows health insurers to provide certain health care benefit plans to local boards of education and eligible employers who do not participate in SEHBP; modifies employee contribution for New Jersey Educators Health Plan and its equivalent. (Support – technical correction to c. 44) (P.L.2020, c.137)
  • S3043/A4603 – Extends deadline for completion and filing of annual audit report of school district for 2019-2020 school year; establishes deadline for submission of Audit Summary for 2019-2020 school year. (Oppose) (P.L.2020, c.130)
  • A1076/S2638 – Requires AG to collect, record, analyze, and report certain prosecutorial and criminal justice data. (Support) (P.L.2020, c.120)

RESULTS FROM MONDAY, DECEMBER 7

  • A4454/S2781 – Requires school districts to include instruction on diversity and inclusion as part of implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • S1018 – Establishes task force to examine school discipline practices including racial disparities and effectiveness. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • S1020 – Requires school districts and charter schools to report discipline data on their websites and to Commissioner of Education. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • S1154 – Directs DOE to develop guidelines for school districts and charter schools concerning school discipline that are consistent with certain federal guidelines. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • S1501 – Requires school districts to adopt policies concerning student use of sunscreen and sun-protective clothing at school and school-sponsored functions. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Monitor)
  • S1790 – “Mallory’s Law”; revises provisions required in school district’s anti-bullying policy; provides for civil liability of parent of minor adjudicated delinquent for cyber-harassment or harassment; and increases certain fines against parents. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Monitor)
  • S3013 – Renames “security aid” as “health and safety aid” to reflect that secure schools provide for students’ mental health; provides that State aid for nonpublic school security services may also be used for mental health services. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • S3187 – Postpones New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum (NJQSAC) review for certain school districts to accommodate disruption due to COVID-19 pandemic. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • S3213 – Establishes New Jersey Community Learning Program in DOE to provide comprehensive extended learning time programs in certain communities; dedicates portion of State cannabis revenue to support program. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • S3214 – Requires Commissioner of Education to prepare learning loss report and report on public school operations during COVID-19 public health emergency. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Monitor)
  • SR24 – Urges federal government to preserve school discipline guidance package issued in 2014. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • SR84 – Urges President and Congress to enact “CARE for Kids Act of 2019.” (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)

RESULTS FROM THURSDAY, DECEMBER 10

  • A876/S3170 – Directs Secretary of Higher Education to study prevalence, cost, and quality of certain on-line courses compared to traditional classroom courses offered by institutions of higher education. (Received in Senate and referred to Senate Higher Education Committee.) (Monitor)
  • S550 – Requires certain student identification cards to contain telephone number for suicide prevention hotline.  (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Monitor)
  • S830 – Requires public water systems to offer drinking water tests to customers in certain circumstances. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • S1877 – Requires institutions of higher education and proprietary degree-granting institutions to provide transparency of tuition and fees to prospective and current students.  (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (No Position)
  • S2901 – “Braeden’s Law”; requires public colleges to adopt policy for prevention and treatment of exertional heat illness; requires pamphlet on heat stroke be provided to student-athletes, parents, and coaches at public colleges and K-12 schools. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Monitor)
  • S3119 – Allows certain students who hold T, U, or O visa to qualify for in-State tuition and allows students who hold T or U visa to qualify for student financial aid. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Monitor)
  • S3152 – Requires State to enter into contract for personal protective equipment and COVID-19 testing kits for purchase by institutions of higher education. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)
  • SR82 – Urges institutions of higher education to temporarily waive SAT or ACT testing requirements for admission due to COVID-19 pandemic. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Senate.) (No Position)

RESULTS FROM FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11

  • A850/S2864 – Establishes “Broadband Access Study Commission.” (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Senate.) (Support)

RESULTS FROM MONDAY, DECEMBER 14

  • A2293 – Requires institutions of higher education to implement suicide prevention programs and raise awareness of mental health services. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Assembly.) (Support)
  • A3005 – “Mental Health Early Action on Campus Act”; requires institutions of higher education to implement mental health programs and services. (Reported out of committee, referred to Assembly Appropriations Committee.) (Support)
  • A3007 – Requires institutions of higher education to provide students with access to mental health care programs and services and to establish a hotline to provide information concerning the availability of those services. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Assembly.) (Monitor)
  • A4433 – Creates grant program to encourage school districts to partner with institutions of higher education in training school-based mental health services providers.

(Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Assembly.) (Support)

  • A4434 – Establishes Student Wellness Grant Program in DOE. (Reported out of committee, 2nd reading in Assembly.) (Support)
  • A4435 – Requires DCF to give priority to certain school districts with student mental health counseling centers in awarding grants under School Based Youth Services Program. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Assembly.) (Monitor)
  • A4436 – Establishes “Student Mental Health Task Force” to study resources available to schools and parents to address student mental health needs. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Assembly.) (Support)
  • A4437 – Permits certain mental health professionals working in school districts to refer or help facilitate referral of students to private professional counselors. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Assembly.) (Support)
  • A4544/S3150 – Permits school nurse who is retired from TPAF to return to employment during public health emergency and state of emergency for COVID-19 pandemic, for up to two years without reenrollment in TPAF.            (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Senate. Referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.) (Monitor)
  • A4783 – Grants reciprocity to teachers with certain out-of-state certificates.

(Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Assembly.)

(Support)

  • A4975 – Provides for postponement of New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum review for certain school districts. (Recommitted to Assembly Education Committee. Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Assembly.)  (Support)
  • A5119/S3218 – Provides for reorganization of health service corporation.   (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Assembly; Reported out of committee with committee amendments, referred to Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee) (Monitor)

RESULTS FROM TUESDAY, DECEMBER 15

  • A4410/S2743 – Establishes Community College Opportunity Grant Program in Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to provide last-dollar financial aid grants to county college students and Student Success Incentive funding to county colleges. (Reported out of committee with committee amendments, 2nd reading in Senate) (Support)
  • S3218 – Provides for reorganization of health service corporation.   (Reported out of committee 2nd reading in Senate.) (Monitor)

RESULTS FROM THURSDAY, DECEMBER 17

  • A4975/S3187 – Provides for postponement of New Jersey Quality Single Accountability Continuum review for certain school districts. (Passed in both houses and sent to Governor) (Support)
  • A5119/S3218 – Provides for reorganization of health service corporation.   (Passed in both houses and sent to governor) (Monitor)
  • A4454/S2781 – Requires school districts to include instruction on diversity and inclusion as part of implementation of New Jersey Student Learning Standards. (Passed in Senate) (Support)
  • S1790 – Revises provisions required in school district’s anti-bullying policy; provides for civil liability of parent of minor adjudicated delinquent for cyber-harassment or harassment; and increases certain fines against parents. (Passed in Senate.) (Monitor)
  • S3214 – Requires Commissioner of Education to prepare learning loss report and report on public school operations during COVID-19 public health emergency. (Passed in Senate.) (Monitor)

WHEN IS THE LEGISLATURE MEETING AGAIN? (subject to change)

  • Thursday, Jan. 7          Assembly Committees
  • Monday, Jan. 11         Assembly Voting Session
  • Tuesday, Jan. 12         Senate Committees & State of the State Address
  • Wednesday, Jan. 13    Assembly Committees
  • Thursday, Jan. 14        Senate Committees
  • Thursday, Jan. 21        Senate Committees
  • Monday, Jan. 25         Assembly Committees
  • Wednesday, Jan 27     Assembly Committees
  • Thursday, Jan. 28        Senate Voting Session
  • Thursday, Feb. 4         Senate Committees
  • Monday, Feb. 8           Assembly Committees
  • Tuesday, Feb. 9           Senate Committees
  • Thursday, Feb. 11       Senate Committees
  • Wednesday, Feb. 17   Assembly Committees
  • Thursday, Feb. 18       Senate Voting Session
  • Monday, Feb. 22         Assembly Committees
  • Tuesday, Feb. 23         Governor’s Budget Address
  • Thursday, Feb. 25       Assembly Voting Session
  • Wednesday, March 3  Assembly Committees
  • Thursday, March 4      Senate Committees
  • Tuesday, March 9       Senate Committees
  • Wednesday, March 10 Assembly Committees
  • Thursday, March 11    Senate Committees
  • Monday, March 15     Assembly Committees
  • Wednesday, March 17 Assembly Committees
  • Thursday, March 18    Senate Voting Session
  • Thursday, March 25    Assembly Voting Session

For those of you who made it down here, wishing you a restful holiday and a healthy New Year!  See you again in 2021!

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