Halloween at my house is a time of great anticipation and excitement. The excitement mounts as my family plans and creates our costumes, decorates our home, chooses the goodies we’ll hand out, and plans our trick or treating strategy. Both children and adults are anxious to see all the adorable, silly and scary costumes, as well as the great home and yard decorations. And while this is an enjoyable time, we cannot forget to remind our children of some simple safety tips to ensure our family’s safety as we enjoy this booootiful holiday.
Despite the popular belief held outside the Garden State, New Jersey is not the post-apocalyptic wasteland that many envision. We are a diverse state that thrives on balance. For every industrial complex along Route 9, we have acre upon acre of sprawling horse farms and open tracts in Colts Neck Township. For every block of urban landscape, we have miles of beaches “down the shore.” The tenuous harmony between environment and development is one of the defining characteristics that make our state great.
However, that harmony does not come without a price.
It’s been an extremely interesting experience representing the people of the 22nd Legislative District in the New Jersey Senate this year.
Without a doubt, virtually all aspects of everyday life come before the Senate sooner or later, whether the issues involve property tax relief for homeowners, prescription drug help for seniors or educational opportunities for children.
In a perfect world, parents wouldn’t have to work if they didn’t want to and if parents did want to work, the end of the workday would coincide exactly with the ring of the school bell. In our less than perfect world, however, there is typically a several hour lapse between the time the school day ends and working parents arrive home. This lapse has created a dilemma for a society in which households with two working parents and single-parent households with one working parent have become increasingly a necessity and a norm.
Statistics show that approximately 40 percent of American youths’ waking hours are “free” hours–the hours not spent in school, at home doing homework or chores, at a job, or participating in other regularly planned activities. Forty percent of all waking hours is a significant chunk of time for young people to have on their hands, especially if a number of “free” hours are spent unsupervised.
Within schools state and nationwide, racial disparity is a growing problem. The disparity is not between students . The disparity lies between teachers and students. Minority teachers cannot find jobs, and ALL students are without positive minority role models. I stress the word “all” because when there is no diversity within school districts, all students are robbed of different perspectives, different experiences and adequate preparation for the diverse workforce. During this 50 year anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, we must make sure that our schools have racial diversity. Though the scope of the Brown lawsuit was different, two things remain true: education is very important, and students suffer from inequality and lack of diversity within schools.
Across New Jersey there are eight chemical facilities that if disrupted could release toxic gases harming more than one million residents. Nationwide, 123 facilities of this magnitude exist, reported the Environmental Protection Agency. While these numbers represent worst-case scenarios, such findings are far too disturbing for anyone to simply ignore and not take action.
Report after report has indicated the vulnerability of chemical facilities as well as the possibility of terrorists using chemical sites against communities at-large. And why are such toxic plants considered potential terrorist targets? Chemical facilities are not mandated to assess their vulnerabilities nor does any government entity have the power to set basic security guidelines and procedures.
A New Jersey Superior Court’s recent decision to unseal malpractice settlements against doctors is a significant step in strengthening consumer protection in the practice of medicine. It is a step which is long overdue.
This decision will allow patients to protect themselves from bad doctors. For too long, doctors with multiple or catastrophic malpractice records have been able to continue practicing without fear of public scrutiny or outcry. Now patients will be able to make informed and educated decisions when choosing a doctor.
Some of us remember when catalytic converters were attacked by American automobile manufacturers in the early 1970’s. Top auto executives moaned and groaned about the alleged apocalypse the converters would wreak upon the auto industry if required on new vehicles.
Thirty years later, the industry and its executives have done quite well in spite of catalytic converter requirements. Moreover, catalytic converters have led to dramatically cleaner auto emissions by significantly reducing the amount of carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organize compounds (VOCs), and nitrogen oxides (NOx) automobiles release into the environment. Furthermore, the adoption of catalytic converters required the elimination of lead from gasoline, creating a multitude of additional public health and environmental benefits.
It’s hard to believe that it has been seven years since the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunities and Reconciliation Act of 1996” was enacted. This landmark bill dramatically overhauled the welfare system as we know it. During the boom of the late 90s, a period of extraordinary economic expansion, single mothers left welfare faster than anyone expected. New Jersey’s response to welfare reform had brought about an almost 50 percent reduction in the welfare rolls (92,039 in 1997 to 50,207 in 2000). When some people pointed out that those who “escaped welfare” were not “escaping poverty,” they were ignored. Welfare rolls were down and that was all that mattered. And then came the downturn in the economy.
President Bush is trying to make us sick. What other conclusion can we reach regarding the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent relaxation of the clean air rule known as New Source Review? The revised regulation now makes it easier, and cheaper, for hundreds of old coal-fired power plants to upgrade without first installing previously required equipment to limit pollution.
There’s been a great deal of buzz over the new rule from the usual players on both sides of the pollution debate. The Midwestern power plants lobbied long and hard for the new rules to exempt them from antipollution requirements–something which they regarded as detrimental to their bottom line. Environmental and public health groups that fought for the Clean Air Act’s passage in 1970 and its enforcement ever since are predictably beside themselves with frustration–seeing three decades of work take a backseat to Big Business once again within a matter of days.
It is difficult to explain the type of bond that can develop between grandparent and grandchild when grandparents play an active role in the lives of their children’s children. It is nearly impossible to put into words this connection that is unlike any other for the individuals involved, and yet many grandparents and grandchildren have experienced this profound connection.
The grandparent/grandchild relationship is profound, in part, because it forms the connection between past and present– serving as a fundamental link between the history and future of a family. This link is especially critical when a parent is deceased, as in the case recently considered by the State Supreme Court.
On June 30, the New Jersey State Senate and Assembly unanimously passed legislation to create the Office of the Child Advocate within the State Department of Law and Public Safety. The legislature’s action was a significant move toward enacting the measure I introduced nearly two years ago. This measure would institute an independent watchdog to represent the interests of our State’s most vulnerable children–those under the care of the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS). The legislation now awaits the Governor’s signature.
The tragic death of 7-year-old Faheem Williams shocked the entire nation, as did numerous other incidents involving children under DYFS supervision which were reported in the wake of young Faheem’s death. Department of Human Services Commissioner Gwendolyn Harris announced in February that 123 children have died in New Jersey in the past five years–a rate of nearly 25 children per year. Of the 123 deaths, two-thirds of the children were from families under DYFS supervision or with closed DYFS cases. These statistics have clearly exposed the failings of New Jersey’s child protection system.
Americans are not strangers to gun violence. Many of us are confronted daily with television images depicting the harsh reality of gun violence on our local news programs. We are aware of the havoc wreaked by firearms upon individuals, families, and schools right here on American soil. And yet few of us stop to think about the many costs incurred by a community when handgun after handgun literally ends up in the wrong hands.
No community is immune from the perils posed by firearms. Gun violence stretches across all demographic groups in this country. However, urban communities are disproportionately affected by gun violence, and thus incur a sizable portion of the costs associated with this violence. These costs stretch across many parts of a community’s infrastructure, significantly burdening its health care, social service, and criminal justice systems, while greatly detracting from the economic productivity and overall quality of life of a community.
In Governor McGreevey’s State of the State Address, he recognized one of the key problems affecting the lives of many New Jerseyans: excessive sprawl. According to the Governor, the state loses 50 acres of land a day to uncontrolled development. That is a loss in land that New Jersey’s citizens cannot afford.
As a representative of one of the most developed areas in the State, I can attest to the problems of overdevelopment firsthand. All one has to do is travel on Route 17 near the intersection of Route 4 in Paramus at rush hour on any given weekday to see what sprawl can do. That person would see unending lines of cars at a complete standstill. These roadways cannot handle the number of commuters brought into the area as a result of sprawl.
Few people are aware of the important role that New Jersey played in the Underground Railroad Movement and how central this role was in the successful freeing of tens of thousands of Africans held in bondage in the American South. More important even than numbers freed, though, is the abstract contribution towards emancipation made by New Jersey residents, black and white, who participated in the state’s Underground Railroad network.
Despite its northern locale, New Jersey was not a “free state”–one which fugitive slaves could reach and find freedom. To the contrary, New Jersey participated in the practice of slavery almost from the time the first African slaves arrived in North America at the beginning of the 17th century. By 1726, New Jersey slaves numbered roughly 2,600, approximately 8% of the colony’s population at the time. Twenty years later, this number had nearly doubled.