Capitol Report

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May 27, 2019

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.

Medical marijuana, medical expenses in auto cases considered in Legislature

As the Legislature nears the June budget break, heavy-hitting bills that would expand medical marijuana access and reverse a Supreme Court decision regarding auto insurance coverage were front and center.

S-10(Vitale)/A-10(Downey) was voted out of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee and heads for a full vote in the Senate. The bill would greatly expand access to medical marijuana to include a more extensive list of diagnosed conditions and increase the number of dispensaries. It would also expand the list of professionals who can authorize the use of cannabis. The NJSBA remains committed to working with the Legislature to address the legal implications resulting from the expansion of medical marijuana access.

Also up for consideration is S-2432 (Scutari)/A-5371 (Downey), which would permit the recovery of uncompensated medical expenses in civil actions for damages arising from an automobile accident. The bill was voted out of the Senate, and the Assembly version was voted out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee last week. The bill would reverse the highly controversial Supreme Court decision of Haines v. Taft, in which the Supreme Court held that there was no clear intention on the part of the Legislature to deviate from the no-fault first-party personal injury protection (PIP) system of regulated coverage of contained medical expenses. Haines foreclosed the ability of a plaintiff to sue for economic damages claims for medical expenses in excess of an elected lesser amount of available PIP coverage. The NJSBA supports the bill reversing the Supreme Court with an added clarification that the PIP fee schedule should apply to these matters and that any claims against plaintiffs for any balance billing should be disallowed.

Both bills were being considered by the full Assembly at the time of publication. The Senate voting session was cancelled.

NJSBA Addresses Representation of Indigents Challenging Administrative Child Abuse and Neglect Findings

Indigent clients challenging administrative findings of child abuse or neglect in administrative proceedings do not face a “consequence of magnitude” necessitating appointment of counsel, said the NJSBA in its amicus curaie brief to the Appellate Division. The association was invited to participate on the question of whether, as a matter of due process and fundamental fairness, counsel should be appointed for indigents in administrative child abuse proceedings at the administrative and appellate levels. NJSBA Trustee Amy E. Vasquez argued the case on behalf of the association last week before the Appellate Division. Vasquez also authored the brief. 

At oral argument in the matter of Department of Children and Families v. L.O., Docket No. A-7-15, the Appellate Division panel questioned all of the parties about when the right to counsel arises, whether children should also have the right to counsel, and who would be called upon if the right to counsel was found to exist. Arguing that these matters require experienced, trained attorneys, the NJSBA urged the court to advocate before the Legislature for funded representation should a right to counsel be found.

Also invited to participate was American Civil Liberties Union, which argued that consequences of abuse and neglect findings are permanent and the risk of error is extremely high for pro se litigants in an area of the law that is both procedurally and legally complex.