Senate panel advances judicial pension constitutional amendment effort

TRENTON – Legislators are following through with their promise to let voters decide whether sitting judges should be exempt from the state’s landmark pension and benefit reform.

The Senate Labor Committee hosted a public hearing Thursday in response to the Supreme Court’s recent 3-2 ruling that said Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature overreached when they passed the landmark reform in respect to sitting judges.

The public hearing is the next step before lawmakers can vote on the proposed constitutional amendment – SCR110.

The amendment is sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. Shirley Turner, (D-15), Trenton and has bipartisan support. It unanimously cleared a Senate committee in June and an identical proposal has already been introduced in the Assembly.

It would allow voters to clarify the Legislature’s authority to pass laws regarding taking contributions from justices’ and certain judges’ salaries for employee benefits.

“I respectfully disagree with the (Supreme Court’s) decision that was rendered,” said Sen. Richard Codey, (D-27), Roseland, at the start of the public hearing, which lasted less than 30 minutes.

“They should not be held any differently than every other public employee,” he said. “They have to do the same thing and it’s the right thing to do.”

Turner was the first to testify during the public hearing, telling lawmakers she agreed with Codey.

Turner said all public employees should “share in the sacrifice” during these tough economic times, arguing that all state employees were told they “needed to sacrifice” to save the state’s pension system – including judges.

“Just because you are a judge does not exclude you from being a public servant,” she said. “We are not diminishing judges’ salaries when we mandate that they be treated like every other employee in the state.”

Only one other person, a representative from the League of American Families, testified during the hearing. The league supports the proposal.

Hosting the public hearing was one of the last hurdles for SCR110 before lawmakers can take a vote on the proposed amendment on or before Aug. 2.

Voting sessions in both houses are slated for Monday. The proposed amendment needs a three-fifths majority vote – 24 in the Senate and 48 in the Assembly – before it can appear on the November ballot.

"I’m an undertaker by trade, so when I bury somebody, they don’t come back."
—Bergen County Democratic Chairman Lou Stellato