** Monday Preview: Full Senate Will Vote On Pension & Benefits Reforms, Diploma Mill Crack Down, Benefits For Military Veterans

TRENTON – The full Senate will meet on Monday to vote on a wide-range of bills, most pressing among them the comprehensive, bipartisan pension and benefits reform package spearheaded by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney. The voting session, the first of the new legislative session, is scheduled to begin at 2 pm, in the Senate Chambers of the State House.

The pension and benefits reform package – bills S-2, S-3, and S-4 – contains long-term reform and cost-saving measures designed to restore the state’s pension and benefits system to solvency while reducing the cost burden on taxpayers. Most of the proposals are a product of months of exhaustive analysis conducted by a special committee on pension and benefit reforms convened during the Legislature’s 2006 Special Session on Property Taxes.

The bills have been supported by a broad, bipartisan coalition of sponsors, including Senate President Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono, Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean, Jr. and Senators Nicholas P. Scutari, Jim Whelan, Kevin J. O’Toole and Michael J. Doherty. The fourth component in the package, a constitutional amendment (SCR-1) that would require the state to fully fund its pension obligations, has not been posted yet because it requires a public hearing prior to a final vote.

The Senate will also vote on another bipartisan bill (S-826) sponsored by Senators Richard J. Codey and Jennifer Beck that would put a decisive end to the controversial practice of school administrators and teachers using so-called “diploma mills” to obtain advanced degrees and subsequent financial compensation when the institution is not recognized by an official accreditation agency.

The Senate will also consider a resolution (SR-19) sponsored by Senate President Sweeney and Senator Raymond J. Lesniak that would authorize the President of the Senate to take legal action on federal legislation prohibiting sports betting. Among other things, the resolution would allow the Senate President to assist in the federal lawsuit already filed by Senator Lesniak, by filing an amicus brief with the court to provide additional relevant information that might assist the pending case.

Additionally, the Senate will also consider several bills (S-589, S-114) to benefit military personnel, as well as a bill (S-189) sponsored by Senator Nick Scutari, which would establish penalties to crack down on the use of “bump” keys to commit certain crimes. A bump key is a manufactured or modified key, commonly used by locksmiths, but also used as a tool by burglars because it can open cylinder locks used in homes with minimal force, offering a fast and potentially covert method of entry.

At the start of the session, the Senate will also present a ceremonial resolution to Cooper University Hospital honoring its recent medical mission to Haiti to provide emergency assistance in the aftermath of January’s devastating earthquake. In addition to two Cooper nurses who were deployed as part of a team put together by FEMA, the hospital also sent a separate 18-member team of doctors, nurses and technicians on a 12-day mission where they provided care to thousands of Haitians injured in the earthquake. Participants of the mission, representing the hospital, will be on hand to accept the resolution.

Additionally, the Senate Judiciary Committee will meet at 9:30 am in Committee Room 4 of the State House Annex to consider the Governor’s nominations of Bret Schundler to be the new Commissioner of Education and Lee Solomon, Esq. to serve as President of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities.

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