North Jersey News Roundup for Feb. 24, 2021

Gov. Phil Murphy said the state’s priorities as laid out in the 2022 budget are to “build a New Jersey that emerges from the pandemic healthier and more resilient, both physically and economically. A stronger and fairer New Jersey not just for today, but for the generations to come. To change what’s wrong and make sure we get it right for the future.” In a 45 minute prerecorded speech filmed in an empty Trenton War Memorial, the governor’s $44.83 billion spending proposal assumes 2.4% growth in total revenue featuring increased spending for education, healthcare and helping small businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Feb. 23 directed prosecutors across the state to drop pending marijuana possession cases. The guidance comes a day after Gov. Phil Murphy signed legislation to legalize the sale and use of the drug and decriminalizes possession of up to six ounces. PoliticoNJ

Sparta school officials unveiled their hybrid plan to return students to in-person school instruction. The plan will still offer a online schooling option, but all other students will be back in school by the end of March. Starting March 15, the plan calls for cohorts receiving in-person instruction to attend classes for a full day rather than a half day followed by all students who do not elect the virtual option will resume full-day classes in person five days a week starting March 29. New Jersey Herald

Testing students for the coronavirus is poised to become the latest flashpoint as Newark prepares to reopen classrooms this Spring. The Newark Teachers Union has made student testing a top priority with in-person learning scheduled to resume in April. In anticipation of resuming in-person instruction, the district has purchased air purifiers, desktop barriers, and hundreds of thousands of face masks while requiring teachers to test negative before returning to school buildings. NJ Spotlight News

Sen. Bob Menendez is calling for swift passage of the proposed $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan from President Joe Biden being debated in Congress this week, promoting the bill as delivering billions for New Jersey to fight the pandemic, help struggling families and communities, and stimulate the economy. “We need bold action and fast. People want to get back to their lives. To me, that’s what this bill is about,” said Menendez. The federal bill provides federal funding to ramp up vaccinations, increases stimulus checks to $2,000, extends unemployment benefits and housing protections, help schools return to in-person instruction, support struggling restaurants and small businesses, and provide states, counties and municipalities with direct, flexible assistance to maintain services as well as keep essential workers on the job.

A New Jersey correctional police sergeant became the fourth officer at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility to face criminal charges in a widening probe into the Jan. 11 incident, during which prisoners say they were maced, punched and kicked while handcuffed. Sgt. Matthew D. Faschan was supposed to video record the forced removal of inmates from their cells at New Jersey’s women’s prison but is alleged to have helped cover up the coordinated beatdown. Faschan faces two counts of official misconduct and one count of records tampering, according to state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. Insider NJ

Former Morris County freeholder candidate Mary Dougherty pleaded guilty to a charge of filing a false report with the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission. According to Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, the false report was made in connection with an illegal $10,000 campaign contribution she received and connected to a larger corruption probe resulting in four indictments against public officials and political candidates announced by Grewal Feb. 16.

A bill eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders has been approved by the State Senate. The legislation is mostly aimed at drug offenders and racial disparities in prisons, but it was amended last year to include public workers and officials at the request of North Bergen mayor and State Sen. Nicholas Sacco. Critics of the amended version, including Gov. Phil Murphy and State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, point out that the new would indirectly benefit Sacco since the son of his long-time girlfriend has been charged with a low-show/no-show job with the township, an official misconduct offense that would fall within the bill’s purview. The Jersey Journal

The U.S. Supreme Court denied to hear a request for a recount of the New Jersey Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that was up for grabs in 2020. The highest court in the land rejected Hirsh Singh’s bid to hold a recount of the primary election held last July along with his allegations that Gov. Phil Murphy’s executive order mandating vote-by-mail primary was unconstitutional. The court found Murphy’s authority was permissible under the Emergency Health Powers Act, which was enacted during the coronavirus pandemic and gives the governor delegated emergency powers. New Jersey Globe

Nonprofit hospitals will retain their tax-exempt status but will make “community service” payments to help cover police, fire and other local services under a new law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy. The bill is a response to a tax court ruling in 2015 that found Morristown Medical Center operated largely as a for-profit hospital, making it subject to property taxes. The new law requires non-profit hospitals to pay the municipality in which they are located $3 per day for each hospital bed and $300 per day for each satellite emergency care facility, based on the prior year’s tally of beds and facilities. Fees would rise 2% annually to cover inflationary costs.

Members of  North Haledon’s Zoning Board of Adjustment have suggested they disband and form an entirely new panel of volunteers that would conduct both planning and zoning duties. Members cited a “diminished” agenda—they did not handle a single application last year—in a letter to the governing body that suggested the Planning Board should break apart as well before a new board is assembled. The Record

And finally…Bruce Springsteen to appear in federal court Feb. 24 on drunken-driving charges. The New York Times

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