The 218th Legislature finished its business on Monday, and the 219th Legislature was sworn in on Tuesday. In its closing hours, there was the expected flurry of legislative activity. Here’s a rundown of bills and issues of interest that were considered, acted on or died in lame duck. As noted below, there are many bills on the Governor’s desk so this will be updated and revised in about a week.
Expansion of 20 and Out Does Not Advance
Thank you to Mayors and local officials statewide who reached out to their State Senators to express concerns with legislation that would have expanded “20 and out” for police and fire. While the bill passed the Assembly, it did not advance in the Senate and died with the end of the legislative term.
This bill would create an additional category of service retirement for Police Fire Retirement System (PFRS) employees. Under the bill, a PFRS employee who is enrolled before or after the bill’s effective date may retire, regardless of age, upon attaining 20 or more years of service credit and would receive a retirement allowance equal to 50% of the member’s final compensation.
The League opposed this legislation and cited the December 12 statement from the Assembly Appropriations Committee on the Assembly companion bill, A-6024, which included a fiscal impact analysis prepared by the non-partisan Office of Legislative Services (OLS). The OLS analysis stated that the bill "...will have a significant, indeterminate fiscal impact, likely in the hundreds of millions of dollars, on both the State and local portions of the PFRS pension funds and the unfunded liability costs that would be charged to the State and local government entities to fund the unfunded liability created by the bill.”
The public safety unions have taken issue with the OLS analysis and have countered with their own analysis, which we are currently reviewing. We do expect the issue to return in the new session.
Marijuana Legalization Headed to the Ballot
As expected, both houses of the State Legislature voted Monday to place a question on the November 2020 ballot asking the citizens of the State to approve the legalization of marijuana. The measures both passed the respective houses by a 3/5th majority, which means they do not need to act again, and the measure heads to the ballot in November.
Expungement Expansion Approved and Signed into Law
Both houses passed, and the Governor signed into law, S-4154, which took effect on December 18, 2019. It establishes a process for individuals to seek a “clean slate” expungement. Additionally, the law directs a task force to develop and the Administrative Office of the Courts to implement an automated clean slate expungement system. The new law also requires that low-level marijuana convictions be sealed, and requires the creation of an e-filing system, eliminating fees to petition for an expungement.
This issue emerged as a top priority, particularly for urban Mayors, during the debate on cannabis legalization.
The provisions of this new law include:
• The waiting period before being able to seek an expungement for certain minor crimes is reduced from 6 to 5 years; and, lowers from 5 years to 4 years the waiting period for a public interest expungement;
• The possession or distribution of 5 pounds or less of marijuana or 1 pound or less of hashish would be changed from a crime to a disorderly persons offense; and
• Eliminate the existing $75 filing fee for all expungement applications; the bill includes a $15 million appropriation for, among other things, the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop a web-based system for all expungement filings.
Governor Signs Bill Allowing Municipalities to Access Property for Lead Line Replacement
The Senate and Assembly approved, and the Governor signed legislation that would give municipalities the authority to adopt ordinances allowing access to private property for the replacement of lead service lines.
S-4110, which the League supported, provides clear authority allowing a municipality to pass an ordinance allowing the municipality, municipal water system, or an agent thereof to enter onto property within the municipality to perform lead service line replacement. The legislation requires that the municipality provide notice to the property owner at least 72 hours prior to entering the property. This new law took effect on January 9, 2020.
Plastic Bag Ban Dies in Assembly
On Monday, the State Senate approved S-2776 – the bill which aims to ban the commercial use of single-use foam, paper, and plastic food and grocery containers. The bill would, after two-years, supersede local ordinances and impose a statewide ban on those products.
However, at the League’s urging, the bill provided that any local ordinances, currently on the books or passed in the interim, would remain in effect for two years after the bill would be signed by the Governor.
The Assembly did not take up the bill for consideration, and it died.
The Senate proposal would allow customer access to single-use plastic straws. Further grocers would not be required to provide free reusable bags to customers, during the first two months of the ban’s implementation. The bill calls for a three-year program to provide reusable bags to lower-income residents, which would be allocated $500,000 a year.
OPRA and OPMA Bills See No Action
The expected push for a floor vote on the bills to change OPRA and OPMA never materialized thanks to the continued efforts of the League and Mayors statewide.
Bills on the Governor’s Desk
Currently, there are over 200 bills on the Governor’s desk and he has about a week to act. These bills can be signed into law or pocket vetoed. There is a provision for a bill to be conditionally vetoed and returned to the new Legislature, but it is unlikely any would go that route.
The Governor has taken action on a number of bills, which are highlighted in a recent Town Crier blog post.
We will provide another update after the deadline for the Governor to act.
Contact: Michael F. Cerra, Assistant Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481 x120.