The full New Jersey Legislature is in session this Thursday after a summer recess, which also included a brief mid-summer reconvening for the urgent priority of filling vacant judicial seats.
As the Legislature reconvenes, we as New Jerseyans must remind our lawmakers that every decision they make is urgent and impacts our lives, our families, and our futures.
For their first weeks back, here are our first priorities:
- The Reproductive Equity Act: A bill that expands access to reproductive health care, including abortion, regardless of income, insurance, or immigration status.
- Bills holding police accountable: Several bills act as a check on police power, including requiring public access to disciplinary records, ending qualified immunity, giving communities power to create strong civilian complaint review boards, and banning chokeholds.
- Legislation protecting immigrants’ rights and inclusion: A bill would severely limit state and local government from collaborating with federal immigration agencies.
These issues all disproportionately affect Black and brown communities, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people, and they can mean life-and-death for New Jerseyans affected by them.
Abortion access tops the list. After the U.S. Supreme Court ended federal protection of abortion rights, access to abortion at the state-level became even more essential. Even though New Jersey has strong legal protections for abortion, significant barriers still exist that keep everyone from accessing that right.
The Reproductive Equity Act, S2918/A4350, expands abortion access regardless of insurance coverage, immigration status, or income, by requiring many insurance providers to cover abortion care and establishing a program to cover uninsured, under-insured, and undocumented New Jerseyans. It also invests in training to preserve and expand facilities across the state, and offers grants to facilities for security that will protect providers and patients.
After decades of systemic oppression targeting communities of color, police accountability is long overdue. A patchwork of laws created a system in which officers often commit injustices with impunity, and it requires a range of overlapping laws to even begin to undo the damage.
We need S371/A996 to make police disciplinary records available through the Open Public Records Act. New Jersey is only one of a handful of states to block police disciplinary records from public view, and that needs to change.
We need S2295/A1515 which will enable communities to create civilian complaint review boards with subpoena power, concurrent investigations with internal affairs, and the power to recommend discipline.
We must pass S375/A1006 to limit qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that makes it nearly impossible to win civil lawsuits against the government for rights violations, regardless of the harm inflicted. New Jersey must also confront excessive use of force through passage of George Floyd’s Law, A2431/S265, which bans and criminalizes chokeholds.
We need to make sure that as one of the most diverse states, we’re also among the most fair and welcoming. The Values Act, S512/A1986, prohibits state and local law enforcement from voluntarily collaborating with federal immigration authorities, ensuring that more New Jerseyans can interact with government agencies with less fear – whether it’s a public health office or a public school district.
New Jersey has made important strides in all of these areas. This year, Gov. Murphy signed into law the Freedom of Reproductive Choice Act, which codified reproductive autonomy, including the right to an abortion, into law. New Jersey finally enacted a law requiring licensing of police officers, making it harder for officers with abusive records to move departments. And New Jersey’s Immigrant Trust Directive, instituted in 2018, was a first step toward drawing a bright line between the role of state and local law enforcement and the role of ICE – but it doesn’t limit all voluntary cooperation by law enforcement or make that distinction for all state and local government.
Each of these existing policies fills an important need, but more must be done to move toward a fair and equitable New Jersey for all.
This is the most important legislative session we’ve seen, and that’s because it’s the one we can influence right now. Join us to pressure our lawmakers to make these bills law – and continue to build a more perfect New Jersey.