Legislation Marks First Time Legislature Has Stopped Executive Branch Rule Change
TRENTON – With approval by the full Senate today, legislation sponsored by Senators Bob Gordon and Linda R. Greenstein has blocked implementation of the Civil Service Commission’s proposed rule change that would create job banding for state employees. This marks the first time in New Jersey’s history that a concurrent resolution has been used to stop an Executive branch rule change.
The resolution, SCR-166/ACR-215, is the second measure necessary to stop the Civil Service Commission from implementing a controversial plan to strip civil service protections. Based on a 1992 amendment to the state constitution, the Legislature – by passing two separate concurrent resolutions – has the power to invalidate a proposed or existing executive branch regulation that it is inconsistent with legislative intent.
“With this vote today, the Legislature has taken a definitive stand against this proposed Civil Service rule change,” said Senator Gordon, D-Bergen and Passaic. “We could not sit idly by and allow an agency in one fell swoop to dismantle a system that has worked to help limit discrimination and cronyism throughout the state workforce. Changes to this system should be done through the proper channels, through the Legislative process and with ample opportunity for public discussion. That has not been the case with this proposed change. I am thrilled that we have ensured that our state employees will continue to be provided with an objective hiring and promotion process through our current civil service system.”
On March 18, 2013, the New Jersey Registrar published a proposed rule change by the Civil Service Commission that would alter the state’s civil service in the form of a “Job Banding Program.” Under the proposal, multiple job titles and title series would be grouped together under a band. Promotion within a band would no longer require a civil service examination, and instead be at the discretion of management.
“The changes proposed by the NJ Civil Service Commission were arguably the most far-reaching changes ever proposed in the state’s century-old system,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “Civil service was put in place to ensure a system of fair promotions based on evaluated performances rather than patronage. The proposal by the Civil Service Commission would have eliminated the one objective measure that helps weed out favoritism and corruption from the system: the civil service exam. By completing this process today, we are stopping this overreach of power and ensuring that the most qualified men and women are those doing the public’s work.”
The New Jersey State Constitution explicitly states that appointments and promotions in the civil service sector of the state should be based on merit and fitness to be determined by examination. The Senators note that creating job bands, where civil service workers are promoted without an examination, is in direct conflict with the Constitution.
Additionally, the Civil Service Act within New Jersey state statute provides that the selection and advancement of employees shall be based on their relative knowledge, skills and abilities; ensure equal employment opportunity at all levels of public service; and protect career public employees from political coercion. The Civil Service Act also states that the Civil Service Commission is required to establish and maintain classification of titles and positions and announce and administer promotional examinations for any title.
On December 23, 2013, the Civil Service Commission released amendments to their proposed rule change including removing the controversial end to veterans’ preference for advancement within the civil service system. Senators Gordon and Greenstein feel that these amendments do not correct the crux of the problem with the proposed rule change: the job banding proposal.
“This resolution is about ending the job band proposal that would systematically disable our civil service system,” said Senator Gordon. “The Civil Service Commission addressed some of our major concerns with their amendments such as rolling back their plan to dismantle veterans’ preference in the system; a step I felt was truly dishonorable to our servicemen and women. But since the Commission failed to throw out the idea of job banding, we had to move forward with this legislation.”
“State employees and working families should feel confident that their voices were heard today by the Legislature and that we will stand up to make certain they receive fair promotions based on quality performance rather than patronage,” said Senator Greenstein. “The Civil Service Commission cannot distract us with these amendments from our core concern with this plan: that hiring and promotions will be based on who you know rather than how well you do your job. Furthermore, services for taxpayers would likely suffer when the best and brightest are passed over for promotion based on patronage and favoritism.”
The Senators also expressed an objection to the Commission’s attempt to circumvent the Legislative process through a rule change and without providing adequate public comment opportunities. The Commission held one public meeting at 3 pm on a workday, when many of those most affected would be unable to attend. The Commission also failed to take steps that prior Administrations had adhered to in devising changes to the Civil Service system, like openly discussing the proposal with affected labor unions and holding meetings of the Labor Advisory Board.
The concurrent resolution was approved by the Senate with a vote of 21-16. The Assembly approved the resolution on Monday with a vote of 48-31. The resolution immediately halts the Civil Service Commission’s proposed rule change, upon transmittal to the required agencies by the Senate and Assembly.