New Jersey lawmakers approved legislation permitting towns to create volunteer property tax credit programs, as well as a measure penned in response to the death of a Medford resident.
TRENTON — The New Jersey Legislature’s lame-duck session was in full swing Thursday as lawmakers in the Senate and Assembly voted to advance scores of bills pertaining to issues ranging from traffic safety and internet gambling to the state’s high property taxes.
The latter issue was the target of legislation penned by Assemblymen Troy Singleton, Joe Lagana and Paul Moriarty that would reward certain longtime homeowners with up to $1,000 in property tax credits for volunteer work they perform for their hometowns.
Eligibility for the credits would be limited to residents age 60 and older who have owned and lived in a home in their town for at least 15 years.
The bill specifies that municipalities would determine what volunteer work could be done, but that volunteers could not be used as replacements for salaried workers or professionals. The amount of credits awarded to eligible volunteers would be based on the state’s minimum hourly wage. Credits would not be allowed to accrue over multiple years.
Singleton, D-7th of Palmyra, said the proposed tax credits would be a win-win for longtime homeowners and the towns where they live.
“Many seniors are living on fixed incomes. Meanwhile, we have municipalities that are cutting or scaling back services because of budgetary restrictions. This could help lessen the property tax burdens on retirees, while providing needed services to municipalities,” he said.
The bill was approved 73-0 in the Assembly on Thursday and heads to the Senate. To become law, it must be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor.
The legislation had been sent to Gov. Chris Christie in December 2015, but was conditionally vetoed. The governor expressed concerns about providing compensation for volunteer work and whether it would subject recipients of the credits to federal taxes.
Another bill advanced from the Assembly on Thursday would amend state law so that drivers who cause fatal accidents because they fail to maintain a lane can be charged with vehicular homicide, which is typically reserved for reckless conduct behind the wheel. It would also make those specific vehicular homicides a third-degree offense, punishable by between three and five years in prison.
The legislation was named “Eileen’s Law,” in memory of Eileen Marmino, a 34-year-old Medford resident who was killed in July 2015. Marmino, who was a special education teacher and the mother of twins, was riding a bicycle on Church Road when she was hit by a vehicle that veered into the bike lane.
The driver was never charged criminally and faced only traffic citations.
Sen. Dawn Marie Addiego, R-8th of Evesham, and other lawmakers sponsored legislation to toughen the law to hold drivers responsible.
“This horrible tragedy was compounded when the driver could not be charged with a crime,” Addiego said Thursday.
She cited testimony last year from Marmino’s father, Bruce Lafferty, during a Senate committee hearing on the legislation: “Eileen’s life was reduced to a $300 traffic violation,” Lafferty said.
“That’s unacceptable. This bill addresses inadequacies of the law,” Addiego said.
The bill, which was sponsored by Assembly members Joe Howarth, R-8th of Evesham; Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, R-8th of Medford; and John Wisniewski, D-19th of Sayreville, was approved 70-1 by their chamber.
The Senate version is pending before its Budget and Appropriations Committee.
Another bill approved by the Assembly would allow New Jersey’s horse racing tracks to offer internet gambling on their premises, provided they reach an agreement with an Atlantic City casino or an online affiliate.
The legislation was approved 60-12.
Supporters such as co-sponsor Ron Dancer, R-12th of Plumsted, said the measure would provide much-needed help to the state’s racetracks and boost online gambling revenues.
Gamblers are already allowed to place bets online anywhere in New Jersey, but the legislation would provide racetracks with an exemption from the existing state law banning online wagering at internet cafes.
“Attendance at the tracks will increase, and the online option adds an attractive entertainment element,” Dancer said.
The legislation is pending in the Senate.