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The 221st Legislature took office this week with a fairly strong sigh of relief from the business community. 

That’s because the lame duck session that preceded it, renowned for its rush of sometimes controversial bills and fast-track approaches, only had one potential loss for New Jersey business, compared to a few nice wins and saves. 

“It could have been much worse,” said NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Christoper Emigholz. “Obviously, with such turnover between the two legislative sessions, there was the chance that some really concerning bills could have been rammed through in an expedited time frame.  

“But that wasn’t the case, and, in some cases, our policymakers heard the concerns of the business community.” 

On The Plus Side 

First and foremost, the hard and long-fought efforts of the business community to sunset the temporary 2.5% Corporate Business Tax surtax was finalized as no new legislation to extend the surcharge was introduced. 

“We thank Governor Murphy for holding firm on his commitment on the sunset – it was absolutely the right thing to do,” Emigholz said.  

“New Jersey now has the fourth highest CBT rate in the nation at 9%. But by allowing the temporary surtax to actually become temporary, New Jersey can hopefully start to move away from its national outlier status on this tax.” 

Additionally, a couple of good business bills got to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk during lame duck.  

Most notably, the Manufacturing in Higher Education act, which will create a more comprehensive and multi-faceted plan to improve the quality of the state’s manufacturing workforce. 

“This is really a great bill for manufacturing in the state,” Emigholz added. “Anything that can advance manufacturing in New Jersey is not only good for the industry, but for our overall economy.” 

Also getting to the governor’s desk was an NJBIA-championed bill that required boards within the Division of Consumer Affairs to implement best practices to expedite the approval of occupational licenses.  

While Gov. Murphy vetoed the bill this week, despite unanimous support for it in the Legislature, a second bill (A-4621) which would require issuance of reports on certain information and data of applications for these licenses and mandate a review of training within DCA also made it to his desk. 

Holding Steady 

There was a slew of anti-business bills during lame duck that never got the chance to get to Gov. Murphy’s desk. 

Most notably, bill A-5166, which requires much smaller employers to comply with the job reinstatement provisions of the New Jersey Family Leave Act, passed the full Assembly, but never got a vote in the Senate. 

Under the terms of the bill, the employee threshold for employers to offer Family Leave would be lowered from its current 30 employees to only five. 

“We credit Senate President (Nicholas) Scutari for recognizing the damage that this bill could do to our smallest employers,” Emigholz said. “We’ve heard the same concerns from others in the Senate as well.  

“In some cases, it’s possible that worker who is taking the leave might not have an employer to come back to.” 

Other anti-business bills that also failed to get to the governor’s desk included: 

  • A-5076: Requires businesses to offer less tech-savvy customers access to an in-store alternative to digital coupons used on smartphones or other electronic devices. 
  • A-4059: Raises the cap on contingency fees collected by attorneys who prevail in workers’ compensation cases. 
  • S-2978: Codifies into law a 100% clean energy standard for the generation of electricity by 2035. 
  • A-5430: Discourages tax-saving privatization efforts by requiring private companies to provide the same benefits that public workers receive and allowing the comptroller to cancel contracts.  
  • A-4639: Eliminates high school graduation proficiency test. 

“These are all bills that hurt or burden businesses in the short term and the long term, and both individually and collectively,” Emigholz said. “I thank our Government Affairs team for their work in opposing them and we will remain vigilant against them going forward.” 

Mitigation Nation

Bill A-4292 calls for the raising of the minimum amount of liability coverage for commercial motor vehicles and autocabs.  

But the bill has been amended to lower the liability requirement from $500,000 to $300,000 for vehicles ranging from 10,001 to 26,000 pounds.  

Additionally, language which said the legislation applies to vehicles “being used commercially” has been removed – limiting the bill to commercially registered vehicles only. 

NJBIA also worked with sponsors of the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights (S-723) to make it less cumbersome for the business community. 

Some amendments reducing some of the initially proposed requirements include: 

  • Removal of the updated casual employment definition to remain consistent with existing state law.
  • Ensuring the legislation applies to true termination situations only, instead of someone who has been inactive with an agency. 
  • Clarifying the rebuttable presumption of retaliation provision. 
  • Removal of a provision mandating an extra hour of pay in situations where the employer cannot provide a meal or rest period and brings back on duty meal and rest breaks. 

“We think these amendments successfully strike a balance between providing flexibility for employers to manage their workforce according to business needs and ensuring certain protections for employees,” said NJBIA Vice President of Government Affairs Elissa Frank. 

The Bad and the Ugly 

Bill A-1971 was the one bill that did get away to Gov. Murphy’s desk. 

It’s a complex piece of legislation, more than six years in the making that will hamper how small and large businesses market to current and future customers by requiring online services to notify consumers of the collection of personally identifiable information.   

Although NJBIA Deputy Chief of Government Affairs Ray Cantor was able to get a few key amendments, there were other late changes during lame duck that will make New Jersey an outlier in how it treats data privacy, IT and innovation, while widely opening businesses up for more litigation.  

“It’s important to note that we do not oppose comprehensive data privacy legislation,” Emigholz said. “But some of the late amendments that came through in December removed that balance for business the bill previously had and contains requirements that are inconsistent with other states. 

“It’s our hope that Governor Murphy recognizes that the bill on his desk will actually stand directly in the way of New Jersey becoming an IT leader, which is what he called for in his State of the State address this week.”