Legislature enacts two key reforms

EDITORIAL: The Legislature approves meaningful ethics reform and a statewide smoking ban.

In the waning days of its 2005 session, the state Legislature courageously took action on two issues long called for by this page — a statewide smoking ban in public places, and tougher limits on government contractors making political contributions.
   Gov. Richard J. Codey deserves thanks for signing the pay-to-play measure into law and for announcing his intent to sign the smoking ban before leaving office on Tuesday. Ending a decade-long debate Monday, the state Assembly overwhelming passed a bill to ban smoking in indoor public places such as restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, private clubs, bingo halls and enclosed shopping malls. The state Senate passed the bill in December.
   The measure would permit smoking only in the gambling areas of casinos, in one-fifth of a hotel’s guest rooms, and in cigar bars or lounges that opened prior to 2005. Ideally, the Legislature would have passed comprehensive legislation that protects all patrons and employees from harmful secondhand smoke — smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke kills 14,800 New Jerseyans a year. Still, this ban is a major step and we hope its advocates continue to press for additional reform.
   Another post-holiday gift from the Legislature, and signed into law by Gov. Codey last week, is a measure that permits municipalities, counties and school boards to enact stronger bans on government contractors making donations to political candidates.
   Municipalities such as Lawrence that approved ordinances to combat the so-called pay-to-play system where professional firms make large political campaign contributions with the expectation of receiving lucrative no-bid contracts won’t be forced to back off from those ethical reforms.
   The township voters approved an ordinance by referendum in 2004 that limits professionals to donating a maximum of $400 to candidates for Township Council and $500 to the Lawrence Township and Mercer County Republican and Democratic parties.
   The ordinance also sets a $2,500 limit for what professional firms, such as law and planning firms, may donate to a political candidate, a township or county political party or political action committee, combined.
   The new state law sets a minimum standard, and permits forward-thinking communities like Lawrence to make a strong stance against pay-to-play.
   We’re pleased the Legislature and Gov. Codey saw the wisdom of ending patchwork reform where one municipality adopts an ordinance banning pay-to-play, but a neighboring town does not. This campaign finance reform may not fully restore the public’s trust in government, but it does help.