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9/18/2014 Press office
Assembly Panel Ok’s Bill Package Aimed at Making College More Affordable and Attainable for NJ Students
Four-Bills are Sponsored by Cryan, Riley, Giblin, Mukherji, Lagana, Moriarty, Eustace, Quijano, Diegnan, Benson, Garcia, Singleton, Jasey and Fuentes
The Assembly Higher Education Committee on Thursday approved four key bills that are part of a larger 20-bill package aimed at addressing the systemic factors pushing more and more New Jersey students into the real world saddled with debt and without a college degree.
The package is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Celeste Riley, who chairs the committee, as well as Joseph Cryan, Thomas Giblin, Raj Mukherji, Joseph Lagana, Paul Moriarty, Tim Eustace, Annette Quijano, Patrick Diegnan, Daniel Benson, Carmelo Garcia, Troy Singleton, Mila Jasey and Angel Fuentes.
Riley and Cryan first unveiled the 20-bill package in March to address many of the critical factors standing in the way of whether a student successfully completes college and in the most cost-effective manner possible, including: college readiness, completion rates, cost, data collection, accountability, and pathways to success.
"This might be the first proposal of its kind to be so all-encompassing," said Riley (D-Cumberland/Gloucester/Salem). "While visiting colleges during my legislative tenure we were able to hear what's working and what's not at many of our schools. This is a chance for us to take those success stories and make them a reality for every school and student."
"One of the statistics that really stood out to me was the number of students that were 'down and out' - meaning after so many years enrolled in college they were down money and still without a degree," said Cryan (D-Union). "Now they're carrying a huge debt burden with hardly any means to pay it down. We need to change that and these bills are a good start."
The following four bills were approved today:
A-2802 (sponsored by Riley/Cryan/Giblin/Mukherji/Lagana/Moriarty) would establish a statewide reverse transfer agreement under which at least 30 credits that a student earns towards a bachelor degree at a four-year public institution are transferrable to any county college for credit toward an associate degree to help encourage re-enrollment and degree completion and help a student know their time and money was not wasted.
"Encouraging more students to think outside the box and take advantage of two-year, as well as four-year colleges, will help them minimize costs while pursuing a career they're interested in," said Giblin (D-Essex/Passaic).
"A student's interests often change after they first enter college, especially when there is no gap between high school and higher studies," said Mukherji (D-Hudson). "This will help students continue on the path to higher education without feeling discouraged or that they wasted time or money."
"I've heard countless stories about people who have given up on college because they changed their mind about what they wanted to do midway through, only to go back years later and regret not having done it sooner," said Lagana (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This will help encourage students to continue working towards a degree when they might otherwise be tempted to give up."
"There are many great degrees and certification programs offered by county colleges," said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). "Students can just as easily find a rewarding and well-paying career down this path and that should be encouraged rather than seeing them give up on higher education all together."
A2807 (Cryan/Riley/Eustace/Quijano/Lagana/Moriarty) would freeze tuition and fees at the same rate for nine semesters following a student's initial enrollment at a four-year public or independent institution, potentially saving some students upwards of $10,000 over the course of a six-year degree completion program.
"The present system is almost untenable for working and middle-class families," added Cryan. "Unless we find ways to make college more affordable and achievable, our higher education system will only serve to reinforce socio-economic inequalities rather than reduce them."
"Smart, well-thought-out programs like the government G.I. Bill helped transform college from an opportunity only afforded to the privileged to a path anyone could take to the American Dream," added Riley.
"As a legislative body, this is our chance to boost New Jersey's approach to higher education to make it a reality, once again, for any student who wants it," said Eustace (D-Bergen). "A concerted, coordinated effort on our part can make the difference between whether college becomes a pipe dream or a reality for future generations."
"As tuition and fees continually increase at our higher education institutions, so too has the number of students saddled with student loan debt who are still struggling to complete a degree," said Quijano (D-Union). "This then exacerbates the challenges of finding a good job and achieving financial security, making it all the more imperative that we act to make college more affordable."
A2812 (Riley/Cryan/Diegnan/Giblin/Benson/Garcia) would require the development of a longitudinal statewide data system capable of retaining individual-level information on students from pre-school through post-secondary school and on to entry into the workforce in order to better inform education and labor policies.
"As a legislative body, it's our responsibility to make sure institutions across the state have the necessary data to institute smart policy changes," said Diegnan (D-Middlesex). "Well-informed decisions will lead to well-informed programmatic changes to overhaul our educational system."
"Over the long-term, this data will help drive best practices across our state and make sure that educational success stories are the norm rather than the exception," said Benson (D-Mercer/ Middlesex). "This is a smart investment in our future."
"Comprehensive, long-term data like this will help inform our policy decisions for years to come so we can really pinpoint the key turning points in a student's educational career that require heightened attention and improvement on our part," said Garcia (Hudson).
A2817 (Riley/Singleton/Jasey/Cryan/Fuentes) would require institutions participating in dual enrollment programs to charge a reduced tuition rate to high school students participating in the program.
"Two of our top priorities remain affordability and making sure that students can obtain a degree that they can put to good use in finding employment after graduation," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "This policy change would help students achieve both of these goals."
"We've heard time and again that we need to address the affordability crisis in higher education," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "Not only will this change help do that, but it will put students on the path to a career more quickly so they can become productive members of society sooner."
"Anything that helps aspiring students obtain a degree more quickly and affordably is a smart move," said Fuentes (D-Camden). "Students should be encouraged, rather than discouraged from pursuing dual enrollment and this bill will help do just that."
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9/15/2014 Press office
McKeon, Prieto, Greenwald, Mainor, Jasey & Schaer Bill to Create Statewide Gun Buyback Program Approved by Assembly
(TRENTON) - Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman John McKeon, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald, Charles Mainor, Mila Jasey and Gary Schaer to create a statewide gun buyback program to cut back on the number of firearms out in communities throughout the state was approved 53-22-5 Monday by the Assembly.
"Gun violence claims lives every day. In some communities, it is an-all too common reality," said McKeon (D-Essex/Morris). "We realize a gun buyback program alone will not eliminate gun violence, but it can help enhance public safety by reducing the number of firearms in circulation."
"A gun in the hands of a violent or disturbed individual is a bad combination," said Prieto (D-Bergen, Hudson). "This can help keep guns from falling into the wrong hands by creating a controlled environment where individuals looking to get rid of their weapons can do so safely and anonymously."
"A gun buyback program is not the be-all and end-all solution to gun violence, but it can help make a dent by giving people the option to safely discard their weapons," said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). "Anything we can do to reduce the number of guns in our communities is a worthwhile pursuit."
The bill (A-2895) would require the Attorney General to establish a statewide gun buyback program that would allow New Jersey citizens to voluntarily and anonymously surrender firearms and weapons in their possession in exchange for a monetary reward. The form of the reward, such as cash or debit card, would be determined by the Attorney General.
"Gun buyback programs are successful in getting a good amount of firearms off the street," said Mainor (D-Hudson). "Giving residents an incentive and a safe alternative to disposing unneeded firearms is a method that has worked in the past to decrease the likelihood of weapons falling into the wrong hands."
"Unfortunately, there is not just one solution to curbing gun violence in our communities," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "A buyback program is one proven way of getting rid of firearms. Every gun we can get off the street is a small victory."
"Gun buyback programs are an integral part of a larger effort to reduce the overall numbers of guns available in our communities," said Schaer (D-Bergen/Passaic). "Each firearm we remove from circulation helps to prevent another devastating tragedy. Each one turned in, potentially saves a life."
Under the gun buyback program established in the bill, the Attorney General would be required to hold at least nine gun buyback programs a year throughout the state. At least three each would be held in the northern region, central region, and southern region of the state, and at least one program in each region would be held in an urban area with a high crime rate. The Attorney General would have to get the crime rates of the various towns by consulting the most recent issue of the Uniform Crime Report, which is published by the Department of Law and Public Safety.
The bill directs the Attorney General to partner with local law enforcement agencies and community organizations in coordinating gun buyback events when possible.
The gun buyback program would be funded by: forfeiture funds received by the Attorney General as instrumentalities of crime; private donations from corporations, small businesses, and individuals; and any other monies that may become available to the Attorney General.
The Attorney General's Office launched a gun buyback initiative in 2012. To date, a total of ten buybacks conducted across New Jersey have recovered a total of 15,958 firearms, including more than 7,300 handguns and nearly 1,900 illegal guns.
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9/12/2014 Press office
Jasey Decries Christie's Land Bank Bill Veto, Says Call for State Oversight Creates Unnecessary Bureaucratic Red Tape for Towns
(TRENTON) - Assemblywoman Mila Jasey (D-Essex, Morris) released the following statement on Friday describing the Governor's veto of her legislation that would have helped to fight blight in New Jersey's communities, especially in the state's urban centers:
"Land Banks are more than an experiment, Governor.
"Eighty Land Banks in 20 states, including New York, Pennsylvania, are successfully using this tool to markedly improve cities, permitting them to attract business opportunities and greatly improve quality of life.
"Vacant lots, abandoned shopping centers, buildings and homes diminish the property values. Municipalities should be given the opportunity to rid neighborhood blight in a way that will raise revenue and strengthen the tax base.
"Placing land bank programs under state control would create unnecessary bureaucratic red tape and make meaningful change much more elusive for communities that desperately need it.
"For nearly five years, Governor Christie has touted the great need for a smaller and efficient government. Yet, in this veto he calls for state oversight.
"And although, the Governor has stated before the need for communities to be able to control housing development, with this veto, he has rejected a proven method that would help municipalities redevelop or repurpose properties to meet current and future housing needs.
"This bill had overwhelming bipartisan support by Legislature and would have given municipalities the opportunity to take charge of their vacant, underused, abandoned properties and develop the land into thriving business centers, new schools, parks, and housing.
"Municipalities deserve real reasons, real answers and real solutions to curing their towns of unsightly, useless properties now."
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9/11/2014 Press office
Benson, Vainieri Huttle, Jasey, Tucker & Wimberly Bill to Train School Bus Drivers/Aides who Transport Children with Special Needs Approved by Assembly Panel
An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Mila Jasey, Cleopatra Tucker and Benjie Wimberly to prevent accidental mistreatment of students with special needs by creating a training program for school bus drivers and aides.
"Children with special needs require specialized attention and care. Bus drivers and aides should be aware of behaviors associated with certain disabilities, and know how to effectively deal with them so to avoid any confusion and accidental mistreatment of these students," said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). "It makes their job easier and ensures that these students are being treated with the respect they deserve."
The bill (A-1029) would require the Commissioner of Education to develop a training program for school bus drivers and school bus aides on interacting with students with special needs. The training program would include appropriate behavior management, effective communication, the use and operation of adaptive equipment, and understanding behavior that may be related to specific disabilities.
"Knowing how to operate a school bus and knowing traffic laws is not enough," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "These bus drivers and aides are responsible for these children and not just for getting them to school safely, but for providing for their well-being while they are on the bus. Teaching them about the challenges faced by children with special needs will help ensure the safety of these students."
Once the training program is made available, boards of education and school bus contractors that provide student transportation services under contract with boards of education would be required to administer the training program to all school bus drivers and school bus aides that they employ.
"While these students are on that bus, they are the responsibility of these drivers and aides," said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). "These students are especially vulnerable. It makes sense to educate these employees on how to recognize behaviors associated with certain disabilities so they can respond appropriately. It is in their best interest and the best interest of these students."
An employer shall require that a school bus driver or school bus aide file a certification with the employer that the individual has completed the training program within five business days of its completion. The employer shall retain a copy of the certification for the duration of the individual's employment.
"By tailoring the transportation protocol to a student's specific needs, we can make sure they are receiving the individualized attention they need from those entrusted with their care," said Tucker (D-Essex). "From a policy perspective this is a wise move."
"The commute to and from school can present a number of obstacles and challenges, depending on a student's particular needs" said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). "This will help ensure, first and foremost, that the student is being looked out for, while also helping drivers and aides do their jobs with less worry or concern."
The bill was approved by the Assembly Education Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.