Voting Rights, Prison Gerrymandering, and Apprenticeships Move Forward as Session Ends
NEWARK — The closing of the New Jersey legislative session this week marked the passage of several key pieces of social justice legislation advanced by the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice that will help move the state forward to becoming a more racially and socially just state.
“Against a backdrop of national chaos, we have taken substantial strides forward to advance racial and social justice over the 2018-2019 legislative session,” said Ryan P. Haygood, President & CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. urged us to choose community over chaos in difficult national moments like this one. In New Jersey, we are now choosing community—and we are succeeding in building our democracy from the ground up rather than waiting for it to come to us from Washington, D.C. We are building a New Jersey that will serve as a national bright light for progressive action.”
“No matter how difficult the national moment, change has always occurred from the ground up. Our collective and successful advocacy with communities across New Jersey is proof of that powerful reality,” said Andrea McChristian, Institute Law & Policy Director. “As we celebrate these successes, we have already begun to tackle the work that lies ahead. We will continue to make deep, reparative, and systemic reform as we move forward.”
In December, two years after the Institute launched the 1844 No More campaign named for the year New Jersey first denied the vote to people with criminal convictions, the Legislature cast the final vote in favor of A5823, a bill that restores voting rights to 83,000 people on probation and parole. This brings the State a significant step closer to severing the tie between the sacred franchise and the racially biased criminal justice system.
Governor Murphy signed the bill into law on December 18.
Ron Pierce, the Institute’s Democracy & Justice Fellow – a husband, veteran, and college graduate – will be able to vote for the first time in over 30 years as a result of this law.
“Since the day I received the letter advising me I had been disenfranchised, I have yearned to regain the right and obligation to vote. Now I can once again be part of the chorus that is the collective voice of the community. It’s hard to express how deeply meaningful it is to have my voice back,” said Pierce.
This month, the Legislature also passed a package of seven bills (see below) to create a robust and diverse apprenticeship program in New Jersey.
“New Jersey is one the wealthiest states in the country, but suffers some of the worst racial disparities in wealth and economic opportunity,” said Jayne Johnson, Sr. Counsel at the Institute. “When all these bills are signed into law, they will benefit both workers and employers by helping close the growing economic divide between highly-educated specially trained workers and low-wage workers whose hopes to attain the American Dream have been slipping away.”
Two of the apprenticeship bills (S3064 and S3066) have been signed into law by Governor Murphy, and five (listed below) are on his desk awaiting signature.
Also this week, the Legislature passed S758, a bill to end the pernicious practice of prison-based gerrymandering wherein, for the purpose of legislative redistricting, incarcerated people — who are denied the vote — are counted in the location of the prison instead of their home communities, where they will likely return. This practice largely impacts people of color.
New Jersey is one of the first states to start redistricting in 2021 due to its off-year elections, so passage of this bill in this past session was crucial.
“We are thrilled that New Jersey is poised to end prison-based gerrymandering, which relies on an incarcerated population that is denied the right to vote – a population that is overwhelmingly Black and Latino in New Jersey – to inflate the political strength of the surrounding community. This practice is reminiscent of the shameful ‘3/5 compromise,’” said Aaron Greene, Associate Counsel at the Institute. “We urge the Governor to act quickly to sign this bill into law so that New Jersey will rightfully count incarcerated people in their home communities, making redistricting in our state more fair.”
In this past session, the Legislature also passed and the Governor signed into law other bills championed by the Institute, including A3115/S1036 establishing an Independent Prosecutor; A2014 establishing Automatic Voter Registration; and S589 authorizing Online Voter Registration – and provided $9 million in funding for 2020 Census outreach in the FY2020 State Budget.
As the new legislative session begins, the Institute will advocate for other critical social justice advances including passage of A701/S315, The New Jersey Youth Justice Transformation Act, to close youth prisons and invest $100 million into community-based programs for kids; passage of A711/S322 to establish a Reparative Justice Task Force; full voting rights restoration including for those in prison; and housing reform.
The seven apprenticeship bills referenced above are:
A4063/S3061: Provides financial incentives to offset apprenticeship program start-up costs
A2049/S3062: Provides corporate business tax and gross income tax credits for businesses that employ apprentices in DOL registered apprenticeships
A4655/S3063: Providers tuition fees waivers for apprenticeship courses for certain candidates
A4656/S3064: Establishes a task force to develop a statewide plan to diversify apprenticeships. (Signed by Governor Murphy)
A4657/S3065: Establishes a three-year youth apprenticeship pilot program which would provide high school and college students an opportunity to develop work skills while continuing their traditional education
A4604/S3066: Establishes a five-year High-Growth Industry Regional Apprenticeship Development Grant Pilot Program. (Signed by Governor Murphy)
A4602/S-3067: Establishes a five-year Apprentice Assistance and Support Services Pilot Program