In just the first two months of 2021, undocumented immigrants will have access to driver’s licenses, nursing homes will have to maintain minimum staffing levels and county freeholders will be no more.
That’s because the new year brings new laws. They’ll bring changes to training for law enforcement and corrections officers and release for inmates. No word on legal weed yet, as the year ended without new legislation allowing the sale of marijuana for those 21 and over and decriminalizing the drug.
Here are some of the state laws that will take effect this year:
NO MORE FREEHOLDERS
As of Jan. 1, a county’s elected leaders will no longer be called freeholders. Instead, they’ll be titled county commissioners, under a law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in August. Boards of chosen freeholders will be likewise be renamed boards of county commissioners.
New Jersey is the only state where top elected county officials are called freeholders, a centuries-old title that Democratic state leaders said was “born from racism.”
“It’s past time for New Jersey to phase out the term ‘freeholder’ from our public discourse — a term coined when only white male landowners could hold public office,” Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin said jointly.
The name stems from a 15th century English legal term referring to a person who owned land free of debts, mortgage, or lien.
That carried over to pre-Revolutionary America. New Jersey’s first constitution, written in 1776, declared a county representative must be worth “fifty pounds proclamation money, clear estate in the same and have resided in the county in which they claim a vote for twelve months immediately preceding the election.”
Proponents of dropping the name noted that only landowners could hold office at the time, and because Black people and most women could not own property, it ensured white men were in power. Owning property during that period also could have included owning slaves.
TAX ON INSURANCE COMPANIES
Insurance companies will pay a 2.5% tax on premiums beginning in the new year.
Proceeds of the new tax, estimated to be about $200 million, will be deposited into the Health Insurance Affordability Fund to subsidize the cost of insurance for people earning less than four times the federal poverty level. That means an individual earning no more than $50,040 and a family of three with income at or below $86,880.
An estimated $77 million of the tax revenue will bolster the state’s existing reinsurance program to cover high cost claims and lower premium costs in the individual market.
Insurers have been paying a federal premiums tax since 2014 to help pay for the landmark health care law, also known as Obamacare. But that tax is expiring. Public health and family advocates urged the Murphy administration to impose this tax to expand coverage to a wider swath of uninsured and underinsured residents.
Business leaders and some health care providers lobbied against it, saying the tax would be passed on to consumers who could hardly afford it.
DRIVERS LICENSES FOR UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS
This law effectively extends licenses to residents without legal status, as well as other residents who may not have documentation, was scheduled to take effect Jan. 1. The Motor Vehicle Commission announced this week, however, that it won’t meet that deadline.
Motor Vehicle officials blamed the pandemic for delayed implementation of this new law. They did not offer a new date.
“The demands on MVC due to COVID-19 have made it impossible for us to complete the training and software changes required to implement it,” MVC Chief Administrator Sue Fulton said in a statement.
This law creates two categories of licenses and identification cards: a REAL ID and a standard ID. Someone must demonstrate citizenship or lawful presence in the U.S. to obtain a REAL ID.
More than 440,000 residents are expected to be able to benefit when the MVC launches the process.
Murphy signed the bill into law in December 2019 and the state has had 13 months to implement the new licenses.
Immigrant advocacy groups previously criticized the administration’s plans to implement the law, namely requirements that people seeking licenses or IDs who don’t have a Social Security number would have to provide their Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, which is a tax processing numbers issued by the IRS, or a letter from the Social Security Administration stating ineligibility.
Advocates said this is a burdensome requirement that could expose applicants’ citizenship status to the federal government.
NURSING HOME STAFFING
This new law sets minimum ratios for nurses and aides at New Jersey nursing homes.
The legislation had been blocked by industry lobbyists and some lawmakers for five years, but there was renewed urgency to pass the bill after the coronavirus pandemic claimed the lives of thousands of long-term care residents in New Jersey.
Compliance will cost the industry $30 million or $5 a day per resident, according to the Health Care Association of New Jersey, a lobbying group for long-term care facilities.
“Sadly, too many nursing homes are run by companies more interested in making money than protecting patients,” Murphy said in a statement after signing the bill. “These long-sought reforms will help bring accountability to the industry and protect residents, staff, and family members with a loved one living in a long-term care facility.
The law requires:
- One Certified Nursing Assistant per 8 patients during the day shift
- One direct care staff member — defined as a certified nurse assistant, a licensed practical nurse or a registered nurse — for every 10 residents during the evening shift, “provided that no fewer than half of all staff members are to be certified nurse aides, and each staff member will sign in to work as a certified nurse aide and will perform certified nurse aide duties,” according to bill
- One direct care staffer for every 14 residents during the overnight shift, with the same rules that applied during the evening shift.
The law takes effect Feb. 1.
CORRECTIONS OFFICER TRAINING
Corrections officers must receive 20 hours of training annually, with four of those hours focused on prevention of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, non-fraternization, conditioning and manipulation awareness, under this law taking effect Feb. 1.
The law was part of a package aimed at cracking down on the sexual abuse of inmates at New Jersey’s women’s prison by corrections officers.
LAW ENFORCEMENT RECRUITMENT
This new law requires state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies establish minority recruitment and selection programs.
This new law requires state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies establish minority recruitment and selection.
It says agencies must make a “good faith effort” to hire more women and people of color, but it doesn’t set specific goals beyond saying agencies should reflect “the diversity of the population” around them.
The law takes effect Feb. 1.
RENEWING PROFESSIONAL LICENSES
People will be able to obtain or renew their professional licenses online beginning Jan. 1. Gov. Chris Christie signed the bill into law shortly before leaving office in 2018.
Professional or occupational boards will be required to provide a secure process for applicants to complete documents, submit documentation and make payments on their websites.
‘EARN YOUR WAY OUT’
The law creates an administrative parole, which will allow certain inmates convicted of nonviolent offenses to forgo a full parole hearing and instead be released on parole after a review by a hearing officer and certification by a member of the State Parole Board.
Dubbed “earn your way out,” it also requires the Department of Corrections and the parole board to develop individualized reentry plans to help each inmate transition back into society. Those plans can incorporate medical, psychiatric, psychological, educational, vocational, substance abuse, and social rehabilitative services, according to the law.
The law takes effect Feb. 1.
Beginning in February, New Jersey’s existing medical statute will be replaced with “compassionate release,” allowing inmates to be released from prison if they are suffering from a terminal medical condition or permanent physical incapacity.
The law requires the inmate’s attorney or the public defender be notified when a client is diagnosed with a “grave medical condition,” and allows them to petition for compassionate release.
LAW ENFORCEMENT IMPLICIT BIAS TRAINING
This law mandates cultural diversity and implicit bias training for law enforcement officers. Law enforcement agencies must provide the training every five years.
“Implicit bias is the automatic association people make between groups of people and stereotypes about those groups. It has been shown to have significant influence on the outcomes of interactions between police and residents,” the legislative sponsors said. “If there is any profession that cannot afford to have or show bias or discrimination in the act of doing their jobs, it’s law enforcement. The rise in police incidences resulting in death of men and women of color has sounded an alarm in communities throughout the nation.
“We must now focus on providing law enforcement agencies with the tools needed to train the officers to acknowledge implicit bias reactions and instead, keep and impart compassion in their work in the diverse communities they serve.”
The law takes effect March 1.
ANALYZING ARRESTS DATA
This new law, taking effect Dec. 1, requires the attorney general collect and analyze race, ethnicity, gender, and age data on arrests and outcomes, which advocates say could help point out disparities in arrests in African-American communities. Those reports and analyses will be public.
“This will help elected officials and the public better evaluate how the law is being applied and enforced in New Jersey,” Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr., R-Union, the bill’s sponsor, said in a statement. “It is imperative that we identify underlying issues within the system and find solutions as part of a concerted effort to assure that justice in New Jersey is blind and fair.”
WHAT ABOUT LEGAL WEED?
When Murphy was elected, the talk was New Jersey could get a law to legalize marijuana within 100 days of when he took office. It’s now been more than 1,080 days, and no law has been signed.
Voters approved a referendum to legalize the sale of marijuana to those 21 and over in November, and lawmakers passed bills on setting rules for legalization and decriminalization on Dec. 17 after weeks of haggling. But the governor now wants changes that would set fines for marijuana possession for people under 21, so the negotiations continue.
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