Several bills signed into law in New Jersey

TRENTON, NJ — Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats John McKeon, John Burzichelli, Troy Singleton and Marlene Caride to help protect sensitive taxpayer information is now law. The new law, A-4994, requires certain state and local government agency employees with access to federal tax information to undergo criminal history background checks. The measure enables New Jersey to comply with recent updates to tax information security guidelines for federal, state and local agencies adopted by the Internal Revenue Service under its Safeguards Program, which is aimed at protecting the confidentiality of tax return information.

“Individuals who have been convicted of theft or forgery may not be the best individuals to trust with such sensitive information,” McKeon, who represents parts of Essex and Morris counties, said in a press release. “We have a responsibility to the taxpayers. Requiring a criminal background check for government employees who have access to this information will help prevent having such delicate information fall into the wrong hands.”

Under the new law, a state or local government agency that obtains federal tax information must have criminal history record background checks conducted for any individual employed by that agency or employed or utilized by a contractor of that agency who is authorized to have access to federal tax information. The law requires a follow-up criminal history record background check to be conducted at least once every 10 years.

Under the new law, each individual with access to federal tax information must submit to the agency head his or her name, address and fingerprints taken by a state or municipal law enforcement agency or by a private entity under contract with the state. The fingerprints and written consent to the check then will be submitted to the state police for a criminal history record background check, and the superintendent of the state police will compare the fingerprints with those on file with the Bureau of Identification in the Division of State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

An individual may have access to federal tax information if his or her background check does not reveal a record of conviction of any crime or disorderly persons offense involving theft, forgery or fraudulent practices. The individual would be disqualified from having access to federal tax information if his or her background check reveals a record of conviction of any of those crimes or offenses, unless the individual has affirmatively demonstrated to the agency clear and convincing evidence of rehabilitation.

If a prospective employee or current employee refuses to consent to a background check, the state or local government agency is prohibited from employing or utilizing that person in a position for which access to federal tax information is required.

Legislation sponsored by several Assembly Democrats to establish a statewide food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030 has been signed into law. The law, A-4631, requires the Department of Environmental Protection, in consultation with the Department of Agriculture, to develop and commence implementation of a plan to accomplish the 50-percent state food waste reduction goal within one year.

The DEP is required to hold at least three public hearings during the development of the plan to seek public input. The departments are also authorized to consult and coordinate with other governmental entities and private, nonprofit or charitable associations, organizations or businesses — such as those in the agricultural, grocery, restaurant, food manufacturer, food supply, food bank, food pantry and health care sectors of the food industry — in developing and implementing the plan.

Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Richard J. Codey, a leading advocate for mental health reform in New Jersey, and Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee Chairman Joseph F. Vitale that would establish a tuition reimbursement program for psychiatrists to address a shortage of mental health care access in certain underserved areas of the state and in psychiatric hospitals in the state was signed into law.

“I’m really ‘feeling the love’ from the governor with these bill signings,” Codey, who represents parts of Essex and Morris counties, said. “This is an important piece of legislation that will help provide mental health care services to those who need it, when they need it and where they need it. The reimbursement program established under this law will provide the necessary incentive for available psychiatrists to practice in New Jersey’s most underserved communities and in the state’s psychiatric hospitals where there is a great need for these professionals.”

Under the law, S-2331, the commissioner of health, in consultation with the commissioner of human services, would designate, on the basis of health status and economic indicators, geographic areas of the state which have a shortage of physicians in the specialty of psychiatry. The program would provide reimbursement of a portion of medical school tuition expenses to psychiatrists who agree to provide mental health care services in one of these state underserved areas, or in a psychiatric hospital, for a period of one to four years.

Program participants will be required to be state residents; be state-licensed physicians who have completed all educational and residency training requirements for the practice of psychiatry; and apply for the program within one year of completing an accredited residency program in psychiatry, or within one year of completing an accredited fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry.

The bill was approved in the Assembly by a vote of 75-0. The Senate approved it 40-0. The law takes effect immediately.

Legislation Assembly Democrats Marlene Caride and McKeon sponsored to ensure that eligible students’ receive an associate’s degree from the community college even after transferring to a four-year institution has been signed into law.

The law, A-4691, requires each institution of higher education to enter into a collective statewide reverse transfer agreement. Under the agreement, a student enrolled in a four-year institution of higher education who has a cumulative total of 66 credits earned between a county college and the four-year institution may be awarded an associate degree by the county college.

“Many of New Jersey’s college students begin their studies in a community college prior to transferring to a four-year college,” McKeon said. “A collective agreement between all colleges in the state would provide students, who have completed the credits required, with an associate’s degree if they discontinue or postpone higher education. This law will help us to ensure that New Jersey families and college students are getting something in return for the money invested in a college education.”