Capitol Report

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December 23, 2019

Governor expands voting rights in new legislation

Last week, Governor Phil Murphy signed a bill to restore voting rights to persons on parole or probation. The New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) supported A-5823 (Sumter)/ S-4260 (Rice) and testified in support of the bill before legislators.

“New Jersey will now lead the nation as a model of racial justice and inclusive democracy, said bill sponsor Assemblywoman Shavonda Sumter. “The privilege to participate in the election process is a constitutional right afforded every American regardless of background, race or status. Every person of voting age should have the ability to cast their ballot without interference and without judgment of their personal history.”

In addition to restoring voting rights, the law repeals statutory provisions that permit a person to challenge a voter’s right to vote in an election on the grounds that the voter is disenfranchised due to a criminal conviction; requires the commissioner of registration in each county to compare voter registration records with criminal conviction records to prevent disenfranchised persons from voting and registering to vote; and criminalizes the act of voting while disenfranchised.

The NJSBA urged legislators to go further to restore the right to vote not only to probationers and parolees, but also to incarcerated citizens. “After a careful and extensive review, the NJSBA could not identify any meaningful policy grounds for stripping any person of the right to vote due to past or present involvement with the criminal justice system,” said NJSBA Trustee Christopher Keating. “On the contrary, removing one’s right to vote actually appears to hurt, not help, the rehabilitation process, as it causes a further disconnect between those with convictions and their communities.”

Also testifying in support of the bill on behalf of the NJSBA and Garden State Bar Association (GSBA) was James Lewis of the GSBA.

The bill takes effect March 17, 2020.

Marathon voting session sends bills to governor’s desk; NJSBA members testify on key legislation

As the lame duck session continues, lawmakers voted out several pieces of key legislation being monitored by the NJSBA:

   A-1796 (McKeon)/S-2609 (Lagana) —The “gay panic” bill awaits the governor’s signature, unanimously passing both the Senate and Assembly. Testifying in support of the bill on behalf of the NJSBA, past president Thomas H. Prol urged legislators to end the “gay and transgender” defense to murder charges in order to reduce the charge to manslaughter committed in the heat of passion.

   A-3150 (Lampitt)/S-2133 (Cruz-Perez)—The governor will consider a bill that mandates health benefits coverage for fertility preservation services under certain health insurance plans. The NJSBA LGBT Rights Section past chair Debra Guston testified in support of the bill, which would permit transgender people who seek to utilize surgery or some mediation therapies as part of their gender affirmation process to have insurance coverage to preserve their sperm or eggs so they can have genetically related children in the future.

   A-3836 (Gusciora)/S-700 (Ruiz)—The Higher Education Citizen Equality Act also heads to the governor’s desk. It defines domicile for dependent students for purposes of eligibility for state student grants and scholarships, and resident tuition rates. The NJSBA recommended amendments to the bill, which were incorporated into the final version that awaits the governor’s signature.

   A-4743 (Quijano)/S-3229 (Vitale)—The bill expands the eligibility of individuals to receive driver’s licenses, including those residents who are unable to prove a lawful presence in the United States. Immigration Law Section Chair Susan Roy testified on behalf of the NJSBA in support of the bill as a necessary safety measure to keep drivers trained, tested and eligible for auto insurance coverage. She also clarified that the bill does not create a status that the individual does not have in the first place.

This is a status report provided by the New Jersey State Bar Association on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers, as well as the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters.