State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, wants to give people involved with agriculture on the Pinelands Commission more say on matters they have expertise on.
Van Drew introduced a bill last month that would clarify the law concerning circumstances in which members of the Pinelands Commission may vote.
There are Pinelands Commission members in the agricultural industry, who due to an interpretation of the ethics provision of the Pinelands Protection Act, cannot vote on agricultural issues before the commission, Van Drew said
The bill did not make it out of the Senate’s Environment and Energy Committee, but Van Drew has not forgotten about it. He said he will talk to the committee’s chairman in the fall about having his bill come up for a vote.
“It can be a decade to get certain bills passed. I don’t give up easily,” Van Drew said.
Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, who is part of the 1st District delegation with Van Drew, introduced the bill in the Assembly, where it was voted out of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.
The bill was scheduled for a vote by the full Assembly twice, but it was held.
The Sierra Club, Environment New Jersey and the Pinelands Preservation Alliance have been fighting against the bill.
This bill would amend the Pinelands Protection Act in order to lower the conflict of interest standards for members of the Pinelands Commission, said Carleton Montgomery, executive director, Pinelands Preservation Alliance.
“Now is not the time to loosen the ethics standards for the commission, especially where private interests are always competing with conservation, and New Jersey has seen so many scandals,” Montgomery said.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that under the bill, a person would only have to have a direct financial benefit for it to be considered a conflict.
“This changes it from the current law, which says that even an appearance of a conflict is considered a conflict that you should recuse yourself from,” said Tittel in the statement.
If Van Drew’s bill were approved, Pineland Commission members, who were Realtors, would be able to vote to allow more development in the Pinelands, Tittel said.
“This means we could have someone from a gas company voting on pipelines or someone from a motorcycle dealership voting to open up trails for motorcycles through the Pines,” said Tittel in a statement.
Van Drew said farmers had brought this issue to his attention, and they discussed it.
Ethics rules stating that individuals cannot vote for personal gain is something Van Drew said he believes in.
Van Drew said his bill mirrors what happens in the state Senate and Assembly and how they deal with issues of conflicts of interest and ethics.
“When you are talking about general agricultural issues, or general medical issues in the legislature, or general accounting issues or dental issues, you have always been allowed to vote on those things, as you should be. You are an expert in them. You know hopefully a little bit more than some of the other folks that are voting on it,” Van Drew said.