The Swearing in of the 220th Legislature
On January 11th, 2022 all 120 members of the 220th Legislature took the oath of office for a new two-year legislative session. Democrats maintained control of both chambers, but in smaller numbers after the previous election cycle. In total, Republicans flipped seven seats in the Legislature, 1 in the Senate and 6 in the Assembly. The Democrat majority was reduced from 25 D/15 R to 24 D/16 R in the Senate and was reduced from 52 D/28 R to 46 D/34 R. In all, the 220th session welcomes 17 new members of the Legislature’s two houses.
The biggest change on January 11th was the swearing in of Senator Nicholas Scutari (D-22) as the new Senate president. Senator Scutari was the longtime chairman of the upper chamber’s judiciary committee and took over as Senate President after taking over for Stephen Sweeney (D-3) following his shocking election upset after 12 years leading the upper house. In the other chamber, Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-19) was sworn into a third term as leader of the lower house. Speaker Coughlin took oath of office virtually after testing positive for COVID-19 shortly before January 11th.
Senator Teresa Ruiz (D-29) was sworn in as the new Majority Leader following the retirement of the long serving Senator Weinberg. Senator Steven Oroho (R-24) officially succeeded former Senator Kean as Senate Minority Leader. In the Assembly, Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6) was sworn into a 6th term in that position. Assemblyman John DiMaio (R-23) has become the new Assembly Minority Leader, succeeding Jon Bramnick (R-21) who won Tom Kean’s former seat in the Senate.
All 120 seats are up for grabs again in two years as it will be the first election after redistricting.
The Governor’s Inaugural Address
On January 18th, 2022, Governor Murphy officially become the first Democrat to win re-election and be sworn in as Governor of New Jersey since 1977. The inauguration ceremony was held at the War Memorial in Trenton, NJ and had several former Governor’s present including, Dick Codey, Chris Christie, Jon Corzine, James McGreevey, and Jim Florio. The Governor’s inauguration sets the landscape of what we can expect for the next 4 years under his leadership.
Governor Murphy’s speech lasted roughly half an hour. He placed a strong emphasis on the COVID-19 pandemic and its challenges to our State while remaining optimistic for the days to come. The Governor paused early in his speech for a moment of silence for the more than 30,000 state residents who have died due to the pandemic. There were 3,000 small American flags in a field outside of the Trenton War Memorial, each representing about 10 of those who have died. The Governor repeatedly used the phrase ‘American Dream’ in his speech and stated how it has been his goal as Governor to return this sentiment to the residents of NJ… “In short, to see New Jersey be the place where the American Dream not only lives but thrives.” The Governor also spoke on making the State more affordable, “…especially when it comes to three of the biggest expenses facing their family and many others like theirs – health care, higher education, and property taxes.” “We’re going to keep chopping away at property taxes,” he said. “Though property taxes are not set by the state – either by me or the Legislature – the decisions and investments we make directly impact their trajectory. Every dollar of new state funding for our schools and communities, for local roads and libraries, and for countless other areas, is a dollar that stays in your pocket as a property taxpayer.”
In response to the Governor’s Inauguration speech, Senate Minority Leader Steve Oroho stated, “We have solutions on the table that could help turn the tide on property taxes and income taxes, which consistently top the list of concerns of New Jerseyans.” “If the governor and legislative leadership want to work in a bipartisan fashion, we have a real opportunity to lower the cost of living in the Garden State.”
As a result of the 2021 Census, NJ is in the process of redrawing its congressional and state legislative districts. This effort is completed by two commissions with equal members of both parties and a tie-breaker identified by the State Supreme Court. The process almost always is determined by the tie-breaker and tends to be controversial; this year is no different.
Congressional Redistricting– The tie-breaker, Former Justice John Wallace Jr., a retired democratic supreme court justice, caused a furor when he said he chose the Democrat’s redistricting map because the Republicans had gotten the nod 10 years ago when New Jersey’s congressional districts were redrawn. After a legal suit by the Republicans in Supreme Court, Wallace was asked to clarify his statement and he now says the Democrats’ map better satisfied the standard for partisan fairness and took public testimony into consideration. A final ruling by the Supreme Court is expected soon.
Legislative Apportionment– This past week, NJ Democratic Chairman LeRoy Jones removed the past Senate President Steve Sweeney from the reapportionment commission over fears that the south might support republicans’ map after the final congressional map hurt southern democratic districts. The move resulted in an immediate legal challenge by the Senate President. In part of his lawsuit, Sweeney points out that he was the only Democratic redistricting commissioner from one of the state’s eight southern counties. The state Constitution requires geographic considerations when the state Democratic and Republican chairs appoint members. A legal hearing is set for Tuesday, February 1st.