TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Raymond Lesniak establishing more oversight over powers of the New York Harbor Waterfront Commission cleared the Senate Economic Growth Committee today.
The bill, S-3074, amends the Waterfront Commission Act to require that the commission maintain minutes of each of its meetings and submit them to the governors of New Jersey and New York for approval. No action could be taken by the commission except at meetings for which minutes were approved by both governors. An exception to this rule would be made for actions granting, suspending, or revoking licenses of port workers.
“This is an agency that has operated without accountability for far too long,” said Senator Lesniak. “The waterfront commission provides a great source of economic strength for the New York-New Jersey area, so it is only right that the governors of these two states have some oversight into this commission so they don’t abuse their powers.”
Under the bill, the governors of New Jersey and New York would have the authority to review the commission’s minutes and approve or veto them within 10 days of receiving them. Unless they received gubernatorial approval within that time frame, no action taken at any meeting would take effect until the 10-day period has elapsed, except for those concerning individual licenses. The bill would provide that, after the required period has elapsed, if the governors have not notified the commission of a veto of the minutes, the minutes and any action taken at that meeting to which the minutes correspond would take effect. If one of the governors returns the minutes to the commission with a veto against an action taken at a meeting, the action would be deemed null and void and of no effect.
In addition, the bill would prohibit the commission from promulgating regulations, or retaining counsel, private consultants, or auditors without the approval of both governors.
The Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor is a bi-state agency that was founded in 1953 to investigate, deter, combat and remedy criminal activity and organized crime influence in the port district and ensure fair hiring and employment practices. The agency has about 100 employees to license the 52 companies now operating on the waterfront and maintain a registry of nearly 6,500 longshoremen and other workers. The commission is funded by a 2 percent payroll tax paid by shipping companies that employ longshoremen.
In August 2009, the New York State Inspector General Joseph Fisch issued a report of his two-year investigation of the Waterfront Commission. The report detailed extensive illegal, corrupt and unethical behavior on the part of Waterfront Commission staff. Following release of the report, the large majority of the commission’s executive staff was fired, including the New Jersey Commissioner.
In the 2014-2015 Legislative Session, Senator Lesniak sponsored S-2277 directing the governor of New Jersey to withdraw from the bi-state compact and transfer the commission’s oversight responsibilities in New Jersey to the state police. Governor Christie conditionally vetoed the bill, noting that that federal law does not permit one state to unilaterally withdraw from a bi-state compact approved by Congress.
The bill cleared committee 5-0 and will head to the full Senate for further consideration.