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Rice: New Jersey’s Legislative Black Caucus Must Fight For Our Youth And Seniors

TRENTON – The New Jersey Legislative Black Caucus held a news conference today to highlight its agenda for the 2006-2007 fiscal year. The Caucus is comprised of 16 Black legislators, 5 of whom are Senators and 11 are Assembly members. Caucus Chairman Senator Ronald L. Rice addressed reporters in Committee Room 1 of the State House Annex.

” With so many young people dying from gang and drug-related violence, our most important goal for the year ahead of us is to make sure that we fight for our Youth and Seniors in particular . To accomplish this we will fight for the reform of the State’s Criminal Justice, Education and Healthcare systems and Senior Services,” said Senator Rice, D-Newark.

“We also must focus on creating activities to keep our inner city children occupied, off drugs, and out of gangs. All too often gangs rob our young people of promising futures. We want to prevent our young people from touching the arms of the criminal justice system,” said Senator Rice. “However, the State must also make certain that educational, treatment, counseling and vocational programs are made available to residents who are incarcerated. We want to do all we can to help keep released inmates out of jail.”

The Caucus’ message touched on the need for accountability for Abbott dollars. Senator Rice noted that the Caucus is opposed to the proposed $30 million in cuts for child care, after school and summer programs in Abbott districts, because often, they are the only sources of support for urban parents who are unemployed or earning low wages.

“These programs help provide discipline and positive values for our children,” Senator Rice said. “They help enhance our kids’ academic growth, which in turn, helps deter them from turning to gangs and crime. We want to make sure that our urban children are performing well in school, and that district test scores meet and exceed State requirements.”

“We rely too heavily on property taxes to cover the cost of our public schools. Also, our Caucus is determined to keep the pressure on the Department of Education to give local control back to Jersey City, Paterson and Newark school districts, by expediting the Quality Single Accountability Continuum (QSAC) law passed by the legislature and signed into law during Governor Codey’s tenure. We must fight to protect our system of public education, while fighting to prevent programs like the voucher system from draining school districts of their resources and creating a system of ‘equal vs. unequal’,” said Senator Rice.

Senator Rice also noted that the Caucus will continue to work with the Corzine administration to make sure that the school construction program is properly and seriously monitored, and free of abuse by construction groups, professional service contractors and labor unions.

During the news conference, the Caucus also focused on the importance of increasing State funding for drug and HIV/AIDS treatment.

“If they can find funding for mental health and stem cell research, they can find money for residential treatment centers to keep people off of drugs and to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Senator Rice.

The group also stressed the need for more affordable, high-quality healthcare throughout the State’s urban, rural and suburban areas.”We as a Caucus are opposed to Governor Corzine’s budget proposal calling for a $2 prescription drug co-pay. Many hard-working Medicaid recipients earn just enough to keep their a roof over their heads and food on the table, and any co-pay would be an unnecessary financial strain,” said Senator Rice.

During the news conference, the Caucus vowed to work to make certain that the Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) be held accountable for expediting the investigation and resolution of child abuse and neglect cases.

“The State funded court plan was intended to improve services for our children and protect them from abuse and neglect,” said Senator Rice. “It was not meant to and cannot continue to create more suffering and pain for families, and potential lawsuits. Our members will work to make certain that DYFS is held accountable.”

“We all know how expensive it is to live in New Jersey, even with the minimum wage increase. We as a caucus are committed to continuing to enhancing the Work First program and creating more job opportunities for residents. We are also in need of increased aid for businesses in our urban centers, as well as construction of more affordable housing,” said Senator Rice.

Senator Rice noted that the Caucus is in favor of a tax on casinos, and supports retaining the tax on complimentaries that are given out by the casinos.

The Caucus’ message also touched on the issue of discrimination in New Jersey. “We cannot deny that racism and discrimination are alive and well here in New Jersey,” said Senator Rice. “It is imperative that we as a Caucus continue to fight against discriminatory practices, regardless of what form they come in – whether they are manifested as racial profiling, police brutality, inequity in the Judiciary system, education disparity or any other form, we are standing here to say that we will not tolerate it.”

The Caucus called on the State to find a permanent source of funding for the Transportation Trust Fund, including creating programs to provide transportation linkage to and from jobs for constituents.

Lastly, the Caucus vowed to continue to meet with the Governor, and the leadership of both Houses to ensure that the work and the needs of constituents are being carried out here in Trenton.

“The Caucus will continue to work with Governor Corzine, Senate President Codey and Assembly Speaker Roberts , various Commissioners , community and political leaders and other groups to make sure that we are adequately serving our communities, and that we are making New Jersey the best it can be for its residents,” Senator Rice said.