Trustee Social Justice Legal Advocacy Fellow Brooke Lewis writes for NJ.com:
What are you doing on Nov. 5? Meetings at work? Taking the kids to practice? Dinner plans?
Whatever your day looks like, add this to your calendar: Electing the representatives who will have a profound effect on your everyday lives.
Election Day in New Jersey is coming up, with all 80 state Assembly seats on the ballot, in addition to local and county level positions across the state. While the cable TV channels talk endlessly about national elections, state and local elections in some ways affect our daily lives even more.
Who is elected into state and local office will impact our lives on matters ranging from how often our streets are plowed in a snow storm, to how much we pay in property taxes, to what tests our children take in school.
But our state legislators can also influence many of the hot button topics we see debated on the federal stage.
Worried about healthcare? Throughout the 2018-2019 session, New Jersey legislators introduced many bills related to Medicaid and/or Medicare, mental health, prescription drugs, health insurance, drug and alcohol abuse, and abortion.
As we continue to have important conversations about public health, access to affordable healthcare, and many other issues impacting our health, remember that our state legislators have the power to make a difference – for better or worse.
Want to expand our democracy? New Jersey denies the right to vote to over 102,000 people because of criminal convictions. Almost half of them are Black, even though Black people are only 15% of our population. There is pending legislation that would restore the right to vote to all people with convictions, severing the tie between the criminal justice system and the electorate.
There are also various pending bills to make voting easier, including legislation to increase early voting and to establish online voter registration.
Want to increase access to jobs? There is currently a package of bills pending that will expand apprenticeship opportunities for people throughout New Jersey. Some of these bills would create tuition fee waivers for apprenticeship courses at public colleges and universities, provide tax credits to businesses who hire people from a registered apprenticeship program, and create a task force that would help ensure apprenticeship programs are accessible to all people regardless of gender, race, or disability status.
Care about immigration? There is pending legislation that would offer driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Additionally, county freeholders, many of whom are up for election this year, determine the county’s relationship with ICE. And county sheriffs, 11 of whom are also up for election this year, are in charge of the conditions of our county prisons, which regularly house ICE detainees.
Care about criminal justice reform? Pending right now is the New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act, historic legislation that overhauls New Jersey’s failing youth justice system. In a state where a Black kid is 30 times more likely to be locked up than a white kid, this legislation would set a timeline for closing youth prisons and make investments in community-based youth programs. New Jersey’s legislators addressed other major criminal justice issues, including restricting the use of solitary confinement and the creation of an Independent Prosecutor to investigate police-involved shootings, and are debating marijuana reform.
Care about gun violence prevention? This year New Jersey legislators took on major issues surrounding gun safety. Several bills aimed at creating stricter gun regulations and curbing gun violence were passed into law, including requiring suicide prevention training for people involved in selling firearms and increasing penalties for those who attempt to obtain guns illegally. There is also pending legislation that would require the Attorney General to establish a gun buyback program.
Want to see action on climate change? Leaders across the country are becoming increasingly aware of the need to address the climate crisis at the state and local level. In fact, New Jersey legislators recently passed legislation that sets new deadlines for the Global Warming Response Act, which will “sharply curb carbon-forming pollution.” New Jersey cities and towns can pass environmental policies, too. For instance, New Jersey towns across the state have passed ordinances on using plastic bags.
These are just some of the important issues our state and local legislators address. Social and racial equity, women’s rights, access to housing, and more will also be directly impacted by the results of this year’s state and local elections.
If you have the right to vote in New Jersey this year, honor it. Appreciate it. And use it. Make sure you cast a ballot on November 5 and make your voice heard.
If you want to know if you are registered to vote, where you go to vote, or have any other questions, please visit https://www.njisj.org/vote.
Brooke Lewis is a Trustee Social Justice Legal Advocacy Fellow at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.
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