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New Jersey Legislative Process

New Jersey has a bicameral Legislature made up of a Senate and an Assembly. The upper house is led by the Senate President and has 40 members, one from each of the state’s legislative districts. The lower house is led by the Speaker of the Assembly and has 80 members, two from each legislative district.

The Senate President and the Speaker come from the majority party in each house, as do the majority leaders. The minority party also has a leader in each house. The Senate President and the Speaker wield an enormous amount of power, controlling every aspect of the legislative process including which bills community colleges are considered for votes.

Each House is organized into various committees that are based on issue subject. For the community colleges, the most important committees are the Higher Education Committees in each house, the Budget and the Appropriations Committees in the Assembly (they are separate), the Budget and Appropriations Committee in the Senate (it is combined), but also the Assembly and Senate Education Committees.

The Senate President and the Speaker of the House have the ability to add or abolish committees and they select the chair and vice chairs and the members, although the minority leaders in each house are typically allowed to select their members for each committee.

Any legislator can introduce a bill, which of officially happens only when the Legislature actually convenes in Trenton. While New Jersey is considered to have a part-time Legislature, the Senate and Assembly do meet year round, but with a lighter schedule in the summer. With few exceptions, they meet in Trenton in the State House Annex on Mondays or Thursdays, but not every Monday or Thursday. Certain days are set aside for committee hearings and others for sessions, when the full Assembly or Senate meet to vote on bills and resolutions.

Once a bill is introduced, it is given a number (A*** or S*** depending on house of origin). The Senate President and the Speaker have the power to determine the committee to which the bill will be referred.
While committee chairs have some in influence over the bills that are actually heard in their committees (the first and necessary step in the process), the final decision rests with the Senate President or the Speaker. Once
a bill is heard and released by a committee, it may be “second referenced” to another committee for further discussion. The Senate President or Speaker can determine that their full house should consider it.

Once the bill passes both houses, in an identical form, it is sent to the Governor’s desk. At that point, the Governor has 45 days, with some exceptions, to take action. The Governor may either sign the bill into
law, conditionally veto it (make changes to the bill and send it back to the Legislature for its action), or absolute veto it (totally reject the bill). If the Governor takes no action, it becomes law, an almost unheard-of occurrence. Once a bill is given a veto, it returns to the Legislature. The Legislature can then concur with the Governor’s changes (in the case of a conditional veto), override the veto (which requires a two thirds, “super majority”) or do nothing (in which case the bill dies).

They begin in early January of even-numbered years and last through mid-January two years later. Bills that are not passed by the end of a legislative session die and must be re-introduced in the next session.

THERE IS A BROAD SCHEDULE THAT GENERALLY GETS FOLLOWED EACH YEAR:

  • Governor gives the State of the State address in early January which lays out his agenda

    for the coming year;

  • Committees usually meet fairly regularly from January through March;

  • Governor gives his Budget Address sometime in February and presents his Budget for the coming fiscal including projection of revenue and proposed spending for all departments and all financial obligations;

  • In April of each year, most committees cease to meet, for the annual “Budget Break.” The Budget Committee for each house meets for detailed discussions of the Budget. These hearings/meetings are each scheduled around a particular subject or department (such as Department of Health, or the Department of Education, Higher Education, etc.); Presidents are asked to attend both the Assembly and Senate budget hearings for higher education.

  • These budget hearings can last into May, but usually by mid-May the regular committees will resume meeting on Mondays and Thursdays as well;

  • June sees a very full schedule of committee hearings, voting sessions, and possibly even more budget hearings;

  • New Jersey’s budget is constitutionally required to be approved by July 1 of each year. This is why June is such a busy month;

  • July and August are generally “summer vacation” with few meetings of the Legislature.

  • September – December is the last legislative meeting push for the year. The schedule varies year to year depending on the election cycle as well. Often there are few, if any, committee hearings in September and October in those years where the entire Legislature is up for election.