Assessment of legislators’ voting records shows strides in civil liberties and areas where progress is needed

The ACLU-NJ issued a scorecard on lawmakers’ civil liberties records to help New Jersey voters hold their elected officials accountable. In the last scorecard during the Christie era, the ACLU-NJ emphasized the need for New Jersey to lead on civil rights going forward no matter who becomes governor.

“As our state becomes one of the first to choose a governor since the election of Donald Trump, all eyes are on New Jersey – and they’re looking to us for leadership," said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. "In New Jersey, we’re not content just holding the line to protect the rights we have, but driven to expand our freedom and equality much further. It’s up to the Legislature to channel that spirit and propel an agenda of justice forward.”

The ACLU-NJ scored members of the Assembly and Senate during the 217th legislative session based on 11 priority issues concerning criminal justice reform, free speech, gender equity, LGBTQ rights, and rights related to health. 

The scorecard included landmark bills that were signed in the 2016-2017 session, such as new state guidelines to treat transgender students fairly and a cap on prison phone rates. The ACLU-NJ also observed areas where the Legislature was uniformly against the side of civil liberties, as with legislation targeting companies with employees that express support for a boycott against Israel, chilling speech. In many instances, such as limits to the use of solitary confinement, parole reform, and expansion of paid family leave, Governor Christie’s veto thwarted civil liberties gains that had passed in the Legislature.

In the Senate, 29 out of 40 earned scores of 50 percent or greater. In the Assembly, 54/80 had scores of 50 percent or higher.

The ACLU-NJ scored bills pertaining to:

  • Criminal justice: Limits to solitary confinement, a requirement for criminal justice proposals to project their impact on communities of color, reform to our parole system to remove barriers for people after having completed their minimally-required sentence, a cap on the rates prisons and jails can charge for phone calls, and independent investigations when someone is killed during an interaction with law enforcement.
  • Free speech: A measure that the ACLU-NJ strongly opposed forbidding investment of the state pension in any company that boycotts Israel or Israeli companies.
  • Gender and LGBTQ equity: adding gender-based pay equity to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and calling for the Department of Education to create guidelines for all schools to follow regarding treating transgender and gender-nonconforming students with the respect they deserve.
  • Health care: a proposal to allow people with terminal illness to self-administer medication to end their life in a humane manner, an expansion of New Jersey’s paid family leave program, and restoration of $7.5 million in family planning funds that Governor Christie has stricken from the budget every year he has been in office.

“Looking at our scorecard, a pattern emerges: in several instances, the Legislature approved bold, much-needed policies to expand people’s rights and make New Jerseyans’ lives better, only for those proposals to be blocked by Governor Christie’s veto,” said ACLU-NJ Policy Counsel Dianna Houenou. “Three months from now, regardless of who wins the election, we will have a new governor and a fresh start. We have a chance to make history and to embody what it means to strengthen our rights, and we hope the Legislature will seize it.”

Related Content: