TRENTON — A state Senate vote that would allow gay marriage in New Jersey is expected to draw the most attention today as the Legislature rushes to get final approval for legislation before the bills expire at the end of the session next week.
State senators are expected to vote on at least 73 bills today, and the Assembly has 76 on its agenda.
Lawmakers are making special provisions for the hundreds of people expected to visit the capital to lobby for and against gay marriage. While the Senate’s second-floor gallery can hold only 95 people, Senate Democrats announced overflow seating with closed-circuit television would be available in the Statehouse annex.
The New Jersey Network will televise proceedings and show video on its Web site.
Watch the Senate vote
New Jersey Network will televise proceedings on the gay-marriage bill at 2 p.m. in the following places:
- On NJN2
- At Comcast channel 262
- Online at www.njn.net
The Freedom of Religion and Equality in Civil Marriage Act essentially would convert the state’s civil unions into marriages, unless dissolved, while exempting churches and religious institutions from performing them.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who leaves office Jan. 19, has said he would sign the bill, while Gov.-elect Chris Christie has said he would veto it.
If the bill succeeds in the Senate, the Assembly would have a final vote Monday. Supporters have said they would take the matter to the courts if it fails.
“Tomorrow’s vote will determine whether tens of thousands of New Jerseyans are able to live in peace and happiness, the same way that other New Jerseyans have always been permitted to live their lives,” sponsor state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said in a statement. “This vote is bigger than party, and it’s bigger than politics.”
Other bills the Senate will consider today include allowing undocumented aliens to pay in-state tuition rates at New Jersey colleges if they meet certain criteria. Tuition parity also has been a controversial issue, with advocates saying it is unfair to penalize children with bills that can be double in-state rates, while others opposed said it unfairly rewards people in violation of federal immigration laws.
Several legislative committees are also meeting. One bill on the agenda in the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee would allow someone who inadvertently lets a liquor license expire for as long as five years to renew it before it vanishes. The current deadline is 60 days.
Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic, said he was asked to sponsor the bill by a constituent. It’s sponsored in the Assembly by Joseph Cryan, D-Union.
Anthony T. Catanoso, president of the company that runs amusements on the Steel Pier, said he was selling the license that formerly belonged to the Log Cabin restaurant on the Black Horse Pike and the license expired mid-transaction.
“I was just so busy with the pier this summer,” Catanoso said. “I lost sight of it. You get too busy.”
But while several hundred bills are on track to pass, many others may not get a vote.
One on track to die with the session is “Ricci’s Law,” a proposal that would require people convicted of drunken driving with a blood alcohol content above 0.15 percent to have ignition interlocks installed on their vehicles for six months to a year after their license suspension ends. Subsequent offenses would require people to keep an interlock on their vehicles for one to three years after the suspension period.
An interlock is a small device that tests the breath of a driver for alcohol before allowing the car to start. Judges currently have the discretion to require them in some cases.
The bill is named for Ricci Branca, a 17-year-old Egg Harbor Township boy who was run down and killed by a drunken driver in 2006 while bicycling to Ocean City. Two friends were also hurt.
While the bill has cleared legislative committees, it still needs the full approval of the Senate and Assembly. Whelan said Wednesday that he has repeatedly tried to get the proposal on the legislative agenda but has not been successful.
Branca’s mother, Sherri, said she would visit Trenton today to make one last direct appeal to lawmakers. Since her son’s death, she has also sought similar federal legislation. Ultimately, she said she wanted everyone convicted of drunken driving to be required to use an interlock as part of their sentence.
“I’m only after one thing. I’m only after not having to put any family through the pain and suffering that they have put this family though,” she said Wednesday afternoon. “I have nothing against bars. I am not against drinking, at all.”
Lawmakers have one last day Monday. The Assembly plans to vote on at least 111 other bills, while the Senate had not announced its schedule by Wednesday evening.
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