LEGISLATIVE UPDATE 3/16/12
Sick Leave Bill Released from Assembly State Government Committee with Amendments
The bill: A-1179 (Lampitt, Coutinho) eliminates cash payments for sick leave accumulated after the bill’s effective date and allows up to $7,500 in unused sick leave to be negotiated for use only as a credit towards post-retirement medical care. To read the amended version go to: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/A1500/1179_U1.HTM
What it does:
- Upon retirement, accumulated sick leave days could be used only to offset payments for post-retirement medical benefits. Modeled after New York, this plan allows unions to negotiate up to a cap of $7,500. Employees would be required to use it within the first 5 years of retirement.
- Employees who do not qualify for post retirement medical benefits would be able to collectively bargain up to a cap of $7,500 for a Health Retirement Account to offset co-pays and deductibles. These employees would also be required to use it within the first 5 years of retirement.
- A one-year vacation leave carry forward limit would be imposed;
- Sick and vacation leave could be suspended and forfeited for employees charged with and convicted of certain crimes involving their employment; and
- Veterans, who typically have medical benefits from the federal government, would be able to retain their valued sick leave up to the negotiated amount collectively bargained by their union.
- PLEASE NOTE:
- Current employees will be able to keep what they have accumulated and receive a cash reimbursement for it at retirement.
- Current employees will be allowed to accumulate additional sick leave time for reimbursement at retirement until the end of their existing collective bargaining agreement.
NJEA Position: Support. We worked with several other unions and the sponsor to make the best out of this bill that we could. Other unions are like CWA, PBA, FOP, IAFF are supporting as well.
- How did NJEA’s involvement improve the bill? Lampitt’s original bill would have:
- Eliminated ability to bargain terms of sick leave
- Required employees to accumulate 60 days after the effective date of the bill before they could accrue time toward post retirement medical credit.
- Given employers the authority to apply an actuarial value on sick leave instead of letting employees negotiate those terms.
- Set specific work rules about minimum disciplinary penalties for alleged violations, when doctor’s notes would be required, the circumstances under which an employee must submit to an examination and who would do that exam, and even would have established that three violations of the law as “good cause for termination.”
Status: The bill was released 3-2 from the Assembly State Government Committee. The Democrats voted for it and the Republicans voted against it. Apparently the Republicans are sticking with the Governor’s “zero means zero” plan which would not allow any bargaining or any sick leave benefit to be realized at retirement. The bill is likely to be heard on the Assembly floor when the legislature returns from the budget break.
Noteworthy: Assemblywoman Lampitt also introduced a bill (A-2489) that targets cash pay outs for sick leave by eliminating all future post-retirement sick leave benefits for non-unionized public workers such as administrators. This bill was also released from the Assembly State Government Committee. To read it go to: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/A2500/2489_R1.HTM
Education reform status update
- The legislature went on budget break as of last night. No bills addressing tenure, evaluation, merit pay, or seniority were moved or released from committee in the first part of the new session.
- On March 5, the Senate Education Committee had a “for discussion only” hearing on S-1455, the tenure bill sponsored by Senator Ruiz. NJEA testified against the bill. To view the testimony go to: http://www.njea.org/news/2012/03/05/njea%20testifies%20against%20tenure%20bill
- NJEA has drafted bills which have been given to legislative leaders but which have not yet been introduced. NJEA is in ongoing conversations with legislative leaders to reach a compromise on tenure and evaluation legislation. We do not expect a bill to move until we have reached some agreement.
- The legislature is unlikely to return to from budget break until the last week in April or the first week in May. We are using this time to attempt to work out a compromise.
- In the meantime…Christie continues to call for his version of education reform
· Governor Chris Christie and Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf visited Bordentown Regional High School this week to discuss the Administration’s budget proposal and to urge the legislature to pass his education reform agenda.
· Specifically he pushed:
o School Children First Act (S-807/A-981)The bill would create a statewide educator evaluation system which will be heavily dependent on test scores, tie tenure to it, and effectively destroy the seniority system.
o Charter Reform Bill (A-980) a bill that will increases the number of charter school authorizers, permits public schools to be converted to charter schools by local boards of education as well as the Department of Education Commissioner, and increases charter autonomy.
o Opportunity Scholarship Act S-1779– A bill promoting school vouchers.
Charter School Legislation Approved by Assembly
- What the bill does: A-1877 would require local approval in any school district where a charter school wants to open or expand. However, in a quirk of New Jersey law, any school district with a board of school estimate does not have a voter referendum on budgets and the bill reflects this discrepancy. Under the bill, the approval of the board of school estimate is required, not a voter referendum, in districts with a board of school estimate. This bill would also require any currently-approved charter schools that have not yet begun operations to obtain local approval before opening their doors this September.
- Status: It was approved by the Assembly by a vote of 46 to 27 with 5 abstentions. The bill still awaits Senate consideration, where it has yet to have a hearing.
- NJEA position: While NJEA has not taken a public position on this bill, NJEA is monitoring it closely and working with supporters behind the scenes. Thanks to our strong working relationship, NJEA quietly ensured an amendment to curtail the rapid proliferation of virtual schools in New Jersey. This amendment prevents any charter school (virtual or otherwise) from enrolling students outside the local district without obtaining local approval in those districts. This would make it very difficult for a virtual school to operate.
- What is likely to happen: The bill is unlikely to pass in its current form. NJEA is hearing that a compromise is taking shape in the Senate. While we do not have all the details, we understand that this compromise would still require local approval in all school districts, but the approval would fall into the hands of the school board or the board of estimate, as necessary. The advocacy groups support this compromise as they believe it provides adequate protection. This bill treats all districts the same. The Governor is expected to argue that only suburban districts should have the right to approve charter schools, not urban districts. No advocates, including NJEA, support this position.
Voucher Bill Reintroduced
The so-called “Opportunity Scholarship Act” has been re-introduced. Two different version of the legislation have been introduced just this week. Text is unavailable for some of the versions at this time, so we cannot really compare them just yet. Here are the numbers and sponsors.
- A-2830 (Fuentes, Greenwald, Bramnick, Schaer, Singleton, Wilson, Green, Rible, Kean, Schepisi)“Opportunity Scholarship Act”; establishes pilot program in Department of Treasury providing tax credits to entities contributing to scholarships for low-income children; appropriates $1,500,000 to Treasury.
- S-1779 (Kean, Singer, Oroho)/A-2828 (Rible, Kean, Bramnick)Opportunity Scholarship Act”; establishes pilot program in Department of Treasury providing tax credits to taxpayers contributing to scholarships for low-income children.
- To view this bill go to: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/S2000/1779_I1.HTM
Once again, there are a lot of bills out there regarding shared services and consolidation. There are in most legislative sessions. Here are three to watch that are on the move.
- S-610 (Sweeney, Oroho). To view the bill: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/S1000/610_I1.HTM
- This legislation would require the executive county superintendent of schools in each county to identify an education services agency to serve the county for the purpose of promoting shared services.
- The education services agency must be either a county special services school district, jointure commission, or educational services commission located in the county.
- If such an entity is not located in the county, the Commissioner of Education will designate one of these entities in an adjoining county.
- The county education services agency will make available to school districts in the county various programs and services that are listed in the bill. The agency can either offer them if they have the capacity or facilitate the sharing of these programs and services by the school districts within the county.
- The bill specifically states that “Nothing in this act shall be construed to require a school district to avail itself of any of the programs and services of a county education services agency, including facilitating the sharing of programs and services among school districts within the county.” In other words… an education services agency has to make the services available but it is at the option of the district as to whether to use them.
- NJEA Position: Seek Amendments
- NJEA had opposed this bill last session. Upon further review, NJEA has decided to seek amendments to improve it since it is voluntary for districts to participate in these arrangements.
- It is also noteworthy that the only opponents of this bill are the private providers (catapult Learning, private providers of special ed and pre-k, Catholic Conference, etc.) AND some even argue that they oppose this bill because it will create county level monopolies which will cause taxpayers to pay more since these private providers don’t have to pay high public salaries, pensions, and benefits.
- NJEA has spoken with the sponsors of the bill and they are willing to work with us to make some changes. NJEA specifically asked that the bill be amended to include a “right of first refusal” for employees who might be displaced if districts decide to share services pursuant to this legislation. NJEA will seek other amendments as well.
- Status: The bill was released from the Senate Education Committee on February 6 and was passed by the Senate 28-12 on February 13. The Democrats supported the bills—the no votes were Republicans.
- S-2 (Sweeney, Kyrillos, O’Toole) To view the bill: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/S0500/2_I2.HTM
- This bill clarifies, the Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission’s (LUARCC) powers to recommend the consolidation or merger of specific municipalities and autonomous agencies and the sharing of services between municipalities or between municipalities and other public entities.
- Under certain circumstances local units could lose some state aid if they don’t comply with LUARCC’s recommendation.
- BUT THE WORST PARTS ARE what the bill would do to employee rights….
- local units would no longer be required to provide employees terminated for reasons of economy and efficiency with a terminal leave payment;
- the Civil Service Commission would no longer be required to review employment reconciliation plans; and
- the protective tenure and Civil Service would not apply to the employees affected by a shared services agreement or joint meeting for a period of 12 months while the agreement is being implemented.
- The bill was amended in committee. The amendments put more of the authority re: decisions about civil service protections into the hands of the Civil Service Commission which is appointed by the Governor.
- NJEA Position: Though few of our members might be affected by the Civil Service provisions in this bill, NJEA is oppose because of the suspension of tenure and other employee rights. NJEA and other public sector unions impacted by the legislation have been working with Senator Sweeney on amendments, but at this time we have not been able to reach a mutually agreeable solution.
- Status: The was released by the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee on Monday, February 27 and referred to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
- A-2202 (O’Donnell, Cryan, Wagner) / S-1459 (Sarlo) To view the bill: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/BillView.asp
- This bill permits establishment of county-wide purchasing system by a county employing qualified purchasing agent and requires participation by all school districts within the county.
- A county that employs a qualified purchasing agent and establishes a county-wide purchasing system is required to notify all of the school districts within that county.
- Contracts would be awarded to vendors on the basis of a best value at the lowest cost acquisition policy, as set forth in the bid documents. School districts located within the county that contract for food or custodial services would be required to purchase through a County Wide Contract for a particular custodial or food service.
- NJEA Position: NJEA is still reviewing this bill and is having conversations with other unions. SEIU may be supporting.
- Status: The bill is referred to the Assembly Education Committee.
Legislation to remedy state mandate state pay issue in anti-bullying law sent to Gov
Several weeks ago the Council on Local Mandates found that certain parts of the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act” represent an unfunded mandate causing the legislature to re-visit the law.
This week a bill (S-1789/A-2709) swept through the legislature to remedy these deficiencies.
- The bill would appropriate $1 million to the Bullying Prevention Fund to assist school districts in implementing the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.” In order for a school district to apply for a grant from the Bullying Prevention Fund, they would be required to exhaust free alternatives such as training and programs available at no cost from the Department of Education, the New Jersey State Bar Foundation or any other entity.
- Additionally, the bill would establish a seven-member Anti-Bullying Task Force in, but not of, the Department of Education to provide guidance to school districts on available resources to assist in the implementation and review of the “Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act.” The Task Force would be required to prepare a report within 180 days of the organizational meeting and annually for the following three years on the effectiveness of the Act in addressing bullying in schools.
NJEA supported this bill.
Christie playing partisan politics with Supreme Court
- NJEA has signed on to a letter along with other unions and progressive groups expressing concern about Governor Christie’s recent nominations to the state Supreme Court. The concern is that these appointments would lead to a significant lack of balance on the Court.
- Every Governor for over six decades has appointed members in a bipartisan fashion, to maintain a 4 to 3 split between the two parties and preserve the court’s independence. If Governor Christie’s nominees Bruce Harris and Phillip Kwon are both confirmed the court would be split 5-2. The appointments would break this essential safeguard for the first time in history and instead set a new expectation that the governor simply would appoint members of his or her own party.
- Governor Christie understands the break in tradition he is proposing, and has tried to obscure it by claiming that Phillip Kwon is an independent without affiliation in either party. He is not. Kwon was a registered Republican in New York since 1997 up until the past year, when he moved to New Jersey. His recent re-registration as an unaffiliated voter does not erase his longstanding affiliation.
- If both current nominees are confirmed, not only would the court be lopsided towards one party for the remainder of Christie’s term, but it would continue to be so for a long time to come. There would be no further open court seats until the year 2021.
- What’s at stake? In this time of acutely partisan debates on critical issues of the day, including collective bargaining, family planning rights, discrimination, school funding, marriage equality, voting rights, executive power and more, the Supreme Court should not be just another partisan entity — especially when the decisions made today will have long term implications.
- TO DO: Reach out to your state Senator and express your concerns about partisan balance on the court. Ask for them to ensure that the Judiciary Committee carefully and deliberately consider the qualifications, temperament and fitness to sit on the Court of each nominee.
Christie appoints a task force by executive order (EO 89) to make changes to the school funding formula
- The School Funding Reform Act (SFRA) is designed to distribute greater amounts of school aid to districts serving greater numbers of students who are economically at-risk and districts with less property wealth.
- Currently, participation in the federal Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program serves as the proxy for classifying and counting economically at-risk students. The Education Funding Task Force is charged with examining the state’s school funding formula and developing recommendations concerning those areas of the formula that may be susceptible to fraud or subject to outside manipulation. This includes participation in the Federal Free and Reduced Price Lunch Program as a proxy for at-risk status and the municipal tax abatement program.
- According to the Executive Order, the Task Force will specifically consider the following issues:
- Economically effective measures of student poverty;
- Educationally sound measures of defining at-risk students;
- Appropriate adjustments to SFRA to account for municipal property ratable bases that may be artificially deflated as a result of municipal property tax abatements;
- Identifying all aspects of the SFRA that may be susceptible to fraud, or subject to undue outside manipulation and recommendations to address these abuses; and
- All other such other matters as may be referred to the Task Force by the Governor.
- The Education Funding Task Force will be composed of 7 members from inside and outside of government, each with expertise in education funding, policy, administration, governance and fiscal management. All members of the Task Force will serve without compensation.
Christie’s poll numbers improve
- According to the most recent statewide survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind™, 54% of New Jersey voters approve of the job Christie is doing, while 34% disapprove, and 12% are mixed or not sure. Moreover, half of voters (50%) rate the job he has been doing as “good” or “excellent.”
- Men approve of Christie’s performance by a hearty two-to-one margin, (62-27). Women are not quite as enthusiastic, but give the guv a six point edge (46-40).
- Democrats are more likely to disapprove (52%) than approve (30%) but independents and Republicans are all thumbs up (60-27 and 85-9).
- The only group, other than Democrats, that are not happy are public employee households. They disapprove of the governor’s performance by a five to four edge (39-50), while other households approve by a two-to-one margin (59-28).
- voters also think things in the state are getting better: 51% say the state is “headed in the right direction,” while 39% say it’s “on the wrong track.”
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