By Peter Guzzo PHD
The New Jersey State Legislature ended the year 2016 with several accomplishments for the New Jersey State FOP but also with several pieces of FOP priority legislation still pending. In 2017 the FOP will be working to move its priorities before the Legislature adjourns at the end of the year which then requires all legislation to once again be reintroduced in 2018 so as to start the process all over again.
On November 30, 2016 Governor Chris Christie signed into law P.L. 2016, c. 68 which establishes Class III Special Law Enforcement Officers (SLEO III’s) for retired law enforcement officers under 65 years of age to provide security in public and nonpublic schools and county colleges. SLEO III’s would be permitted to provide security in the States’ public and nonpublic schools and county colleges. They would be authorized to exercise full powers and duties similar to those of a regularly appointed full-time police officer while providing the security. The restrictions on carrying a firearm currently applicable to Class II SLEO’s also would apply to Class III. Class III SLEO’s would also be required to undergo specialized training to deal with younger people and the related issues that arise with them. Subsequent to the enactment of this law, however, questions arose as to whether the law permits retired corrections officers and retired campus police to be appointed as SLEO III’s. At the time of the writing of this report, the original legislative sponsors of the law are looking at introducing an amendment to the law if, after obtaining a legal opinion, it is necessary to amend the law to permit them to be appointed as SLEO III’s.
A key FOP legislative initiative, Assembly Bill No. 2690, passed in the Assembly on December 19, 2016 by a vote of 77 – 0. The bill expands the list of retired law enforcement officers eligible to receive a handgun carry permit until they turn 75 years old to include State Park Police, Special Agents of the Division of Taxation, Human Services Police Officers, New Jersey Transit Police officers, Campus Police Officers employed by institutions of higher education, State Conservation Officers, Palisades Interstate Parkway Police officers, Burlington County Bridge Police Officers, Housing Authority Police Officers, Juvenile Corrections Officers, Parole Officers and Railway Police Officers. The bill is now in the Senate where it will be joined with the Senate counterpart, Senate Bill No. 879. Both bills have bi-partisan sponsorship. The FOP will continue to push for the bill’s enactment in the New Jersey State Senate and approval of the Governor in 2017. This bill makes New Jersey more compliant with the Federal law and will add an extra layer of safety to New Jersey neighborhoods. It also offers the retired law enforcement officers cited in the bill the opportunity (because of the right to carry) to be employed as security guards as well as giving them added protection which may be needed in retirement from encounters they may have had during their law enforcement careers.
Another key piece of legislation supported by the FOP which benefits members in the State PFRS is P.L. 2016, c. 83, signed into law on December 15, 2016.The law requires the State to pay its annual pension contribution on a quarterly basis. This provides the opportunity to earn an additional $100 to $200 million per year by getting portions of the State’s pension contribution invested in the markets sooner. Under the law the State would be required to make at least 25% of its pension payments by September 30th, 50 % by December 31st, 75 percent by March 31st, and 100% by June 30th of every year. It should be noted, however, that quarterly pension payments by themselves do not solve the funding problems that have long plagued the pension system but it is an important step in cutting the unfunded liability and reducing the amount of money needed in the future.
The FOP will also be pushing for passage of Senate Bills Nos. 2478/168 and Assembly Bills Nos. 4101/1708. These bi-partisan bills expand the crime of bias intimidation to include crimes and offenses committed against law enforcement officers and emergency services personnel. The current law provides that the crime of bias intimidation is graded one level higher than the underlying offense and that a conviction of bias intimidation will not merge with other convictions. The bill reads that a person would be guilty of bias intimidation if the person commits an enumerated crime under circumstances that would cause a reasonable individual or group of individuals to be intimidated because of their status as a law enforcement officer or emergency services personnel. The bill also requires the Attorney General to promulgate and adopt directives to provide that criminal charges for bias intimidation based on a person’s status as a law enforcement officer will not be brought if the underlying offense does not result in bodily injury to the law enforcement officer unless the act involves terroristic threats against the law enforcement officer.
Also on the FOP’s to do list is passage of Assembly Bill No. 447 and Senate Bill No. 2096. These bi-partisan bills would permit retired law enforcement officers who are authorized by the Superintendent of State Police to carry a handgun to have the same privilege as active duty law enforcement to possess hollow nose ammunition.
In addition to the abovementioned legislation and other FOP legislative priorities reported on in previous FOP Legislative Updates, in 2017 the NJ State FOP will be speaking with New Jersey Legislators on the issue of raising the age restriction governing the issuance of permits to carry handguns to retired law enforcement officers. Currently, retired law enforcement officers are entitled to permits to carry a handgun until the age of 75 without having to establish “justifiable need.”
Finally, it should be noted that in 2017 all 120 New Jersey State Legislators (40 Senators and 80 Assemblypersons) will be facing reelection on November 7th. In addition, the election for a new Governor will also be held on November 7th. The FOP will be reviewing the voting records of all 120 legislators and considering the positions of their challengers as well as the Gubernatorial candidates so as to make recommendations based on which candidates have the best interest of all law enforcement officers in mind.