New Laws for 2017: Tax Changes, Cops In Schools, Drug Addiction Treatment

You’re already paying a little more to travel in New Jersey. But at least you’ll pay a little less in the department stores beginning on Jan. 1. And your children may be better protected at school, too, sooner or later.

Gov. Chris Christie signed a number of new laws this year that have either taken effect in recent months or will take effect in January. Or, as in the case of allowing retired police officers to patrol schools, some programs will require training and will have to be phased in over the course of 2017.

Patch is breaking down some important new legislation for 2017, coming in the form of new laws or changes to current law:

Gas tax hike, sales tax cut and other tax changes

It took several months. but Christie, after much deal making and wrangling, signed off on the state Legislature’s plan to raise gas taxes by 23 cents. The new law took effect in November.

The state Senate voted 24-14 to approve the plan, while the state Assembly voted 44-27 to approve it, with nine not voting, soon afterward.

The bill provided a small cut in the sales tax but also renewed the Transportation Trust Fund. The TTF provides money for state transportation projects that Christie shut down three months ago when lawmakers couldn’t agree on a plan to replenish the fund.

Sponsored by Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo and Republican Sen. Steve Oroho, the plan provides dedicated funding of $2 billion a year for eight years, the “most significant” investment in the TTF since it was created 30 years ago, lawmakers said.

With matching federal funds, the state’s $16 billion investment will increase to almost $29 billion.

“This is one of the most significant investments in New Jersey’s infrastructure and economy in recent history,” said Sarlo, the chairman of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. “This is an investment plan that addresses the transportation needs that are so important to New Jersey.”

The gas tax hike plan had its share of opponents who saw it as a drag on the New Jersey economy.

Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean said a tremendous number of his constituents “have reached out to me to say they oppose increasing the gas tax. I’ve received thousands of phone calls, emails and comments on social media over the past few days.”

“I’ve listened carefully to the grave concerns many overburdened taxpayers have expressed about the severe financial impact another tax increase would have on them, and that’s why I voted ‘no’ today,” he said in a statement.

The state’s gas tax increased by 23 cents a gallon to 37.5 cents, an amount that will still be less than the neighboring states of New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, according to supporters. The plan will produce $1.2 billion in annual revenue that will be constitutionally dedicated to the TTF.

The sales tax will be reduced by one-third of a penny over two years. On Jan. 1, the sales tax will go from 7 percent to 6.875 percent followed by a decrease to 6.625 percent on Jan. 1, 2018 for a total reduction of 0.375 percent.

The Earned Income Tax Credit will be increased from 30 percent to 35 percent. Veterans will gain a $3,000 personal tax exemption, retirees will pay less in taxes on their retirement income and the estate tax will be phased out over two years, eliminating a duplicative tax that can fall on middle class families.

The plan will also:

  • Phase out the estate tax over the next 15 months, replacing the current $675,000 threshold with a $2 million exclusion after Jan. 1, 2017 and eliminating the estate tax altogether as of Jan. 1, 2018.
  • Tax Savings for Retirees: Increase the New Jersey gross income tax exclusion on pension and retirement income over four years to $100,000 for joint filers, $75,000 for individuals and $50,000 for married/filing separately.

Allowing armed, retired cops to guard schools

Retired police officers can be hired to provide security for public and private schools and community colleges under a law signed by Christie in November.

The legislation creates a category comprised of retired law enforcement officers authorized to provide security in the state’s public and nonpublic schools and county colleges.

The signing came two days after a knife-wielding attacker at Ohio State University was killed after 11 were hospitalized in the assault.

The legislation, which was sponsored by Assembly Republicans Anthony M. Bucco, Dave Rible and Holly Schepisi, will allow public and non-public schools and county colleges to hire retired law enforcement officers on a part-time basis to provide security on school grounds.

“This is a common sense measure that benefits students and taxpayers,” said Bucco, a Republican from Morris. “School officials will have a larger pool of experienced retired police officers to hire to protect students on school property. At the same time, it will save taxpayers a lot of money by allowing school districts and municipalities to hire these officers at a much lower rate and without the need for pension and health benefit contributions. This is government at its best.”

The bill (S-86/A-3629) establishes an additional category of special law enforcement officers, specifically retired officers who are less than 65 years old. They will be authorized to provide security while on school or college premises during hours when the school or college is normally in session or when occupied by students or their teachers or professors.

They also are authorized to respond to offenses or emergencies off school grounds occurring in the officer’s presence while traveling to a school or college, but they may not be dispatched or dedicated to any other assignment off school or college property, according to the legislation.

They would be authorized to exercise full powers and duties similar to those of a permanent, regularly appointed full-time police officer while providing this security.

Expansion of drug-addiction treatment programs

Christie signed legislation in October that will expand drug addiction treatment programs throughout the state.

Christie signed legislation to enhance and expand addiction treatment programs and improve relationships between law enforcement officers and those suffering from addiction.

“All too often people afflicted with the disease of addiction have negative, counterproductive and repeated interactions with the criminal justice system,” Christie said.

The bill, A-3744/S-2330, provides for the establishment of law enforcement-assisted addiction and recovery programs in law enforcement departments throughout the state.

It’s not clear yet which towns, counties or regions will directly benefit from this expansion.

Under this new law, the director of Mental Health and Addiction Services, in consultation with the attorney general, will prescribe by regulation requirements for county and municipal law enforcement departments to establish a program within their departments.

Law enforcement will also develop and implement guidelines for the recruitment and training of law enforcement officers, volunteers and treatment providers to participate in the program.

The law also provides for:

  • Supporting and facilitating the linkage of law enforcement-assisted addiction and recovery programs to facilities and programs that provide appropriate substance abuse recovery services and health care services
  • Coordinating with law enforcement officials and program volunteers to ensure that individuals seeking to participate in the program are treated with respect, care and compassion, and are reassured that assistance will be provided
  • Establishing requirements for an individual to be eligible for participation in the program, and develop and implement procedures for determining eligibility requirements for the program.

Stadium tax exemptions

Another bill reaffirms that stadiums and arenas owned by government entities are entirely exempt from property taxation.

The bill reaffirms that when government entities enter into private-public arrangements and lease property to for-profit entities, the stadium remains entirely tax exempt. That bill passed the Assembly 59-9 earlier this year and the Senate by a 27-2 vote.

A recent tax court case concerning the taxability of Morristown Medical Center, because of for-profit uses of that property, has raised broader questions in this area.

Other bill signings:

  • A-3988/S-1091 (Schaer, Schepisi, Phoebus, Space/A.R. Bucco, Oroho) – Allows certain fuel dealers and distributors refunds of petroleum products gross receipts tax and credits against motor fuel tax for certain bad debts from sale of fuel
  • S-2749/A-4328 (Sweeney, Greenstein, O’Toole/ Prieto) – Provides for procurement by State of pharmacy benefits manager, automated reverse auction services, and claims adjudication services
  • SCS for S-1967, 1749/A-3707 (Cardinale, Scutari, Gordon/Eustace, Mukherji, Holley) – Authorizes current and retired administrative law judges to solemnize marriages and civil unions
  • S-2004/A-3606 (Beach, Madden/Eustace, DeAngelo, Webber, Mukherji, Downey, Space) – Requires DOLWD to permit veterans and other groups to apply for UI benefits online
  • A-766/S-1386 (Andrzejczak, Mazzeo, Lampitt, Wimberly, Pintor Marin, Downey/Gill, Greenstein) – Allows certain National Guard and United States Reserve members to temporarily defer mortgage loan payments and property tax payments
  • AS for A-3401/SCS for S-2136 (Greenwald, Downey, Phoebus, Space/Oroho, Sarlo) – Concerns electronic medical bills for workers’ compensation claims
  • S-384/A-3470 (Greenstein/Johnson) – Requires correctional facilities to provide inmates with prescription medication that was prescribed for chronic conditions existing prior to incarceration
  • S-743/ACS for A-2761 (Beach, Sarlo, Ruiz/Mazzeo, Zwicker, Jasey, Vainieri Huttle, Schaer, Jones, Eustace, Land, Gusciora, Andrzejczak, Downey, Houghtaling, Benson, Mukherji, McKeon, Lampitt) – Directs Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to forgive certain student loans in the event of student borrower’s death or total and permanent disability and grant deferment for temporary total disability
  • S-1041/A-1449 (Weinberg, Gordon/Lampitt, Benson, Vainieri Huttle, Tucker, Wimberly, Downey) – Requires DHS to develop timeline for use by individuals with developmental disabilities to gain benefit of State and federal programs; requires posting timeline on DHS, DCF, and DOE websites
  • S-2024/A-3793 (Madden, Oroho/Eustace, Peterson, Conaway, Mukherji, Benson, McKnight) – Clarifies that product approval from U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not required for drug manufacturer to file registration statement, and specifies timeframe by which DOH must review registration statements
  • S-2337/A-3985 (Sacco, Allen/Jimenez, O’Scanlon, Mukherji, Benson, Peterson) – Permits law enforcement agencies to buy firearms directly from manufacturers; clarifies permits and identification cards not required
  • S-2338/A-3914 (Whelan, Stack/Mazzeo) – Allows existing rural development areas zoned for industrial use under pinelands comprehensive management plan to be included as eligible areas under certain business incentive programs
  • A-1878/S-2404 (Wimberly/Rice) – Increases to under $15,000 from under $10,000 amount of permitted annual compensation paid to TPAF retiree reemployed as athletic coach by former school district within 180 days of retirement
  • A-2519/S-1152 (DeAngelo, Holley, Mazzeo, Downey, McKnight/Greenstein, Beach) – Directs Attorney General to develop plan to disseminate Amber and Silver Alert information through social media
  • A-3662/S-2374 (Schaer, Caride, Vainieri Huttle, Mukherji, McKnight, Chiaravalloti, Quijano/Weinberg, Pou)– “Rosa-Bonilla Family Act”; concerns development of carbon monoxide poisoning educational program for drivers
  • A-3748/S-2115 (DeAngelo, Eustace, Mukherji, Holley, Benson, Beach/Cruz-Perez) – Requires DMVA to create registry for organizations providing services to veterans
  • AJR-23/SJR-30 (Andrzejczak, Land, Wimberly, Taliaferro/Van Drew) – Designates third weekend in October each year as “Shuck, Sip, and Slurp Weekend” to promote NJ oysters, wine, and beer
  • AJR-24/SJR-36 (Andrzejczak, Houghtaling/Van Drew, Connors) – Declares aquaculture an important State economic driver and urges State to include aquaculture industry in its economic development plans
  • AJR-25/SJR-14 (Land, Andrzejczak/Van Drew) – Recognizes Delaware Bayshore as region of special significance in NJ
  • A-3401/SCS for S-2136 (Greenwald, Downey, Phoebus, Space/Oroho, Sarlo) – Concerns electronic medical bills for workers’ compensation claims
  • SCS for S-601 wGR/ACS for A-889 (Cunningham, Vitale, Singer/Muoio, Sumter, Holley, Oliver, McKnight, Tucker) – Revises treatment requirements for convicted drug offenders receiving general assistance benefits under Work First New Jersey program

– Reposted from The Patch