North Jersey News Roundup for Feb. 23, 2021

Gov. Phil Murphy signed into law three bills that legalized and decriminalized marijuana in New Jersey after lawmakers in Trenton finally agreed to a clean up bill focused on penalties for underage use. “Although this process has taken longer than anticipated, I believe it is ending in the right place and will ultimately serve as a national model,” said Murphy at a press briefing Feb. 22. Those between the ages of 18-21 would get two written warnings if they are found with marijuana illegally. A third offense would require a $50 fine or community service and result in referral to community treatment and education programs. But the offenses would not carry fines, criminal records or jail time.

No new tax increases or fees will be part of the Fiscal Year 2022 budget to be presented by Gov. Phil Murphy at his budget address on Feb. 23. Murphy is expected to propose an expansion of the earned income tax credit eligibility for senior citizens without dependents, as well as an expansion of a new property tax deduction for veterans who served during peacetime. PoliticoNJ

President Joe Biden marked the loss of life from cornavirus as the U.S. death toll passed 500,000 Feb. 22 with a remembrance ceremony at the White House where a military band played “Amazing Grace” and 500 hundred candles lined the steps of the South Portico. “We have been fighting this pandemic for so long. We have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic,” President Biden said, as he referenced the grief he felt after the deaths of his wife, daughter and son. “That black hole in your chest, you feel like you’re being sucked into it. The survivor’s remorse, the anger.” The Wall Street Journal

A new expansion of indoor gathering for religious services, sporting events and entertainment venues in New Jersey was announced by Gov. Phil Murphy. Effective immediately, religious services and celebrations will be able to operate at 50% capacity of the room while indoor and outdoor collegiate sports practices and games are allowed two parents/guardians per participating athlete as spectators for schools at 35% of the indoor room’s capacity. Additionally, beginning March 1, sports and entertainment venues with a fixed-seating capacity of over 5,000 people may open for spectators with a 10% capacity for indoor venues and 15% capacity for outdoor venues.

Johnson & Johnson will be able to provide 20 million U.S. doses of its single-shot COVID-19 vaccine by the end of March if approved by federal regulators. During Congressional testimony, officials for the New Jersey-based company reiterated it will have capacity to provide 100 million vaccine doses to the U.S. by the end of June. News12 New Jersey

The author of a Facebook post who called for violence if Sparta schools aren’t promptly reopened won’t be charged criminally after police learned he was from Wall Township in Monmouth County. Police investigated after seeing the social media message posted on Feb. 19 that urged people to “knock down the doors of the BOE members and union leaders” in Sparta if officials persisted in delaying a return to full-day, in-person instruction. Schools Superintendent Patrick McQueeney said officials were still weighing their options about possible charges. New Jersey Herald

Rep. Mikie Sherrill is sponsoring legislation to create a 9/11 style commission to investigate the January U.S. Capitol Riot. Sherrill, along with sponsors Reps. Jackie Speier (D-CA), Tom Reed (R-NY), and Andrew Garbarino (R-NY), want further investigation into both the Jan. 6 domestic terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-former President Donald Trump supporters and the federal government’s failure to more broadly respond to the threat of domestic terrorism over the past two decades. “Congress must act swiftly to determine exactly how we got to January 6 and how we move forward as a country,” said the congresswoman.

A Pompton Lakes gym owner in jail awaiting trial for his alleged role in the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot has been indicted on additionally charges including assaulting an officer and carrying a dangerous weapon. The 12-count indictment released recently charged Stockholm resident Scott Fairlamb with offenses including civil disorder, disorderly conduct and acts of violence in the Capitol grounds or buildings. The Daily Record

Tens of thousands of unemployment claimants are answering a federally mandated question wrong every week, holding up their claims, according to Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. The commissioner estimates payments for 20,000 claimants a week are being held up because one of eight questions they answered “pend” their claim per federal rules.

The New Jersey Senate approved a bill to establish early voting in New Jersey next year. The bill would provide for three days of early voting for a non-presidential primary, beginning on the Friday before the election and ending the following Sunday. Early voting in presidential primaries would go for five days, instead starting on the Wednesday preceding an election. General elections would have the longest early voting period, beginning 10 days before election day and ending the Sunday immediately preceding the opening of polls. Polls would be open on Monday through Saturday from 10 AM to 8 PM and on Sunday from 10 AM to 6 PM. New Jersey Globe

A proposal to build an annex south of New York’s Penn Station to create more track and platform space for NJ Transit commuters could be reality by 2028, according to a plan unveiled by New York’s Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC). An addition south of Penn Station would have nine additional tracks and five new platforms to accommodate NJ Transit trains would be operational at the same time ESDC predicts new Gateway Hudson River tunnels would be completed.

The proposed 2021 Passaic County budget keeps the tax levy flat for a third consecutive year. The $436.5 million in proposed spending and corresponding $347.5 million tax levy are nearly unchanged from 2020’s budget as the reduced rate is directly connected to a growing tax base. Passaic County’s equalized property valuation surpassed $52 billion in 2020, up roughly $1.5 million from in 2019. The Record

North Bergen‘s health officer Janet Castro will become the township’s next business administrator. Castro, who has worked for North Bergen since 2004, will be the first woman and first Hispanic business administrator for the town when she replaces the retiring Christopher Pianese on July 1. The Jersey Journal

And finally…Jersey City has selected Devils Arena Entertainment to restore and operate the century-old Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Journal Square as a state-of-the-art 3,300-seat venue. Hudson Reporter

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