The following items are taken from reports issued by legislators and other items of political concern.
Minimum wage
   Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, Assemblyman Tim Eustace and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer hailed the approval of a referendum by New Jersey voters that will increase the state’s minimum hourly wage to $8.25 per hour with annual adjustments for inflation.
   Assemblywoman Oliver, Assemblyman Eustace and Assemblywoman Spencer sponsored the resolution to put the question directly before the voters Election Day after the governor vetoed separate legislation that would have increased the minimum wage to $8.50.
   The resolution was one of several legislative measures being pushed by Democrats in the Assembly to spur job creation and jumpstart economic recovery in the state.
   The new minimum wage rate kicks in Jan. 1.
   ”New Jerseyans have spoken,” said Assemblywoman Oliver, D-Essex, Passaic. “After eight years, working families will finally get a deserved financial boost. No one should have to decide whether to buy food or pay a bill, but that has been the reality for many as they struggled to stretch their earnings against ever increasing cost of living expenses. This wage increase will help put more money in people’s pockets that can be spent locally on basic essentials like food, clothing and transportation expenses.”
   ”This is a win for the thousands of working families who for too long have struggled to make ends meet in one of the costliest states in the country,” said Assemblyman Eustace, D-Bergen. “I applaud the voters who understood not just the financial benefit of raising the minimum wage to low-wage earners, but the benefits to the economy. An additional dollar may not seem like much to some, but I’m certain these families will welcome the extra money and the future cost of living increases.”
   ”The minimum wage in New Jersey has been stagnant for years until now, thanks to voters who realized that what low-wage workers were earning was terribly disproportionate to the cost of living in New Jersey,” said Assemblywoman Spencer, D-Essex. “This is a victory for all those low-income working families who will now have a little more to expend on basic household needs like groceries and child care and a win for businesses that will enjoy the trickle-down effect of this increased spending.”
   The constitutional amendment approved by voters sets the minimum wage at $8.25 per hour and provides annual cost of living increases based on increases in the consumer price index.
   The cost of living increases will be added to the initial rate and any subsequent increases in the minimum wage made by law. Also, if the federal minimum wage is raised above the state rate, the state rate would be raised to match the federal rate. Future cost of living increases then would be added to that rate.
   Raising the minimum wage to $8.25 gives New Jersey one of the highest minimum wages in the country (Washington, Oregon and Vermont have minimum wages greater than $8.25; Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada and the District of Columbia set $8.25 as their minimum), which is commensurate with the high cost of living in this state.
   The annual income for a full-time employee working the entire year at the current minimum wage is $15,080; raising the minimum wage will raise that figure to $17,160. A weekly paycheck will go from $290 to $330, a difference of $40.
   New Jersey has been a leader in providing economic security for its lower-income working families by ensuring a fair minimum wage. In 1992, New Jersey increased the minimum wage to $5.05, then the highest in the nation, at a time when the federal minimum wage was set at $4.25. In 1997, the federal government raised the national minimum wage from $4.75 to $5.15.
   In 1999, the Republicans in control of the state government adopted a law requiring the state minimum wage not exceed the federal level — which at the time was the current $5.15 — or go below it.
   In 2006, Democrats raised the state minimum wage from $5.15 to $6.15, then raised it again to $7.15 in 2007. The state minimum wage last was raised in 2009 when it automatically was raised to $7.25 in order to match the newly-implemented federal minimum wage.
Helping vets
   A ballot question Assembly Democrats Craig J. Coughlin, Cleopatra Tucker, Troy Singleton, Gilbert “Whip” L. Wilson and Herb Conaway sponsored that would allow veterans organizations to use net proceeds from games of chance to support their organizational expenses was approved by voters in the Tuesday general election.
   The constitutional amendment (ACR114) allows veterans organizations to use net proceeds from games of chance to support their organizations. Voters approved the question, allowing bona fide veterans organizations registered with the New Jersey Legalized Games of Chance Control Commission and licensed by a municipality to use the net proceeds from existing games of chance such as bingo, lotto or raffles to support their organizations.
   ”Many people today must supplement their income in order to make ends meet, and veterans organizations are no exception,” said Assemblyman Coughlin, D-Middlesex. “I am glad the people of New Jersey voted to allow this small change to the constitution so that we may help these veteran groups stay afloat.”
   ”An organization that depends on member fees and donations in this economy simply can’t stretch their dollars enough to cover their operational expenses,” said Assemblywoman Tucker, D-Essex. “It is wonderful New Jersey voters agreed that this can really help these organizations cover funding gaps and continue their work.”
   ”Proceeds from these games can become essential funding sources for organizations like the VFW,” said Assemblyman Singleton, D-Burlington, a member of the VFW Auxiliary for Post 3020 in Delran. “These groups perform an enormous amount of community service to which these proceeds will go towards. Our veterans put their lives on the line for us, and on Election Day, New Jerseyans said thank you by voting yes to legislation critical in this economy for veterans organizations.”
   ”The disparity between what they take in and what they put out threatens the ability of our veterans organizations to assist not just our veterans, but the communities they call home,” said Assemblyman Wilson, D-Camden, Gloucester. “The services they provide are too important to let them falter. This legislation would enable them to do more to make ends meet.”
   ”Our veterans organizations are facing a harsh financial reality,” said Dr. Conaway, D-Burlington. “By voting to approve this small change, we breathe new life into these organizations and the important programs supporting local military and veteran families. This is a great day for veterans in New Jersey.”
   Before approval of the amendment, the net proceeds of these games of chance could only be used for educational, charitable, patriotic, religious or public-spirited purposes. Only senior citizen associations or clubs were allowed to use the net proceeds of existing games of chance to support their organization.
Widows’ licenses
   The Senate Transportation Committee has advanced legislation sponsored by Sen. Anthony Bucco, R-Morris, to allow widows to obtain a driver’s license with their maiden name after the death of a spouse.
   ”Widows endure enough emotional suffering and logistical stress after the passing of their spouses. Forcing them to get a court order to change their name on a driver’s license is unnecessary and absurd,” Sen. Bucco said. “This is common-sense legislation to responsibly allow widows to resume the use of their maiden names without jumping through crazy hoops.”
   Sen. Bucco’s S1642 establishes a statutory means for widows to resume the use of their maiden names on their driver’s licenses after the death of a spouse. It requires the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission to accept as proof for a name change the applicant’s marriage certificate and the spouse’s death certificate.
   Widows also would have to attest they have not been convicted of a crime, they have no pending criminal charges, and they are not seeking to avoid prosecution or creditors.
No peanuts
   The Senate Transportation Committee has advanced a resolution sponsored by Sen. Joe Kyrillos, R Monmouth, urging commercial airlines to implement and enact policies concerning peanuts on flights to address allergy concerns.
   ”Peanut allergies can have lethal consequences and are nothing to mess around with,” Sen. Kyrillos said. “Airlines have a responsibility to provide basic safeguards for passengers with special health needs. People who report a peanut allergy to an airline should have the comfort of knowing they won’t be served peanuts or put in danger of an allergic attack because of a fellow passenger’s snack.”
   Approximately three million people in the United States alone report allergies to peanuts and tree nuts. The number of children living with peanut allergies is believed to have tripled between 1997 and 2008.
   Sen. Kyrillos’ SR 124 commends the existing policies of JetBlue Airways Corporation and Southwest Airlines and urges other airlines, at a minimum, to announce to passengers on the plane that there is a passenger on board with an allergy to peanuts.
   ”For the millions of children and adults who suffer with peanut allergies, even remote exposure to a peanut can cause immediate and harmful side affects,” Sen. Kyrillos added. “The consequence of having this type of allergic reaction on an airplane where limited medical help is available is a threat that needs to be considered carefully and immediately.”
Sandy bills
   Two bipartisan measures sponsored by Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman to assist and protect homeowners and residents working to rebound from the devastation of Superstorm Sandy have been advanced by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.
   Sen. Bateman’s bipartisan S2976 would safeguard homeowners elevating their homes in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy by establishing new consumer protection standards for home elevation contractors.
   The bill would require home elevation contractors to register with the state Division of Community Affairs, to have at least two years of field experience under the guidance of another experienced home elevation contractor, to have proper jacking equipment capable of safely lifting the home and to have sufficient insurance to cover the homeowner.
   ”There are a plethora of families who will have their homes elevated over the course of the next months and years, and we have to make sure that work is done safely and properly,” said Sen. Bateman, R-Somerset, Hunterdon, Mercer and Middlesex. “Elevating a home is a serious undertaking that requires the right training and equipment. After all they have been through, homeowners need to have the peace of mind that their contractor is insured and knows what they are doing.”
   The Senate Environment and Energy Committee today advanced Sen. Bateman’s resolution, SR125, urging Congress to not penalize residents who were forced to use their 401K funds to pay for damage Superstorm Sandy caused to their homes or property.
   Under current law, the amount of any 401K hardship distribution is considered taxable income, subjected to an additional 10 percent tax as an early withdrawal, and the individual is prohibited from making further salary contributions to the plan for six months.
   ”Thousands of New Jerseyans have had their homes destroyed and their savings devastated through no fault of their own,” Sen. Bateman said. “Those that were forced to use retirement funds to provide for their family are now facing even greater setbacks. Providing exemptions in cases of natural disasters will help families get back on their feet more quickly while better protecting their hard-earned investments.”
   The resolution now will go before the full State Senate for approval. If approved, the resolution will be sent to each member of the New Jersey Congressional delegation as well as the leaders of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
Prieto new speaker
   The incoming Assembly Democratic Majority has chosen Vincent Prieto to serve as the new Assembly speaker.
   Assemblyman Prieto will become the 215th Assembly speaker and the second Cuban American to serve in the leadership post.
   The Secaucus resident will preside over the 80-member General Assembly. Democrats have held the majority since 2002.
   ”I am humbled and honored to receive the support of the Assembly Democratic majority,” Assemblyman Prieto said. “As Democrats, we stand tall for a strong middle-class, protecting our most vulnerable, creating jobs, providing a quality education for all and property tax relief. We have made great strides, but more work always remains and new challenges will arise.
   ”As speaker, I will do everything I can to ensure we continue striving to achieve these goals we share with the people of New Jersey. I am excited by the opportunity ahead.”
   Assemblyman Prieto, D-Hudson, Bergen, will succeed Sheila Oliver, D-Essex, Passaic, who has served as speaker since 2010.
   ”Speaker Oliver’s tenure will long be remembered for historic accomplishments, and her graceful leadership served as an example to us all,” Assemblyman Prieto said. “I look forward to working with her as we continue aiming to achieve a more affordable New Jersey for everyone.”
   Assemblyman Prieto was sworn into the New Jersey General Assembly in 2004. Born in Cuba, he moved to the United States when he was 10.
   He received his certification in construction code technology from Middlesex County College and his certification in fire code technology from Bergen County Community College. He is a construction code official in Secaucus.
   He and his wife, Marlene, have two children.
   Assemblyman Prieto became Assembly budget chairman in 2012. He previously had chaired the Assembly Regulated Professions Committee and was deputy majority whip from 2006 to 2011.
   He represents the 32nd Legislative District, which includes the Bergen County municipalities of Edgewater and Fairview and the Hudson County municipalities of East Newark, Guttenberg, Harrison, Kearny, North Bergen, Secaucus and West New York.
   He will be the second Cuban American to serve as speaker, following current-U.S. Rep. Albio Sires, D-Hudson, who served as speaker from 2002 to 2005.
   ”I’m committed to using my new position as leader of the people’s house to be a strong advocate for our working families,” Assemblyman Prieto said. “Democrats and Republicans alike must put aside any differences we have to work together for the greater good, and that will be my goal.”
   He will be joined in leadership by Lou Greenwald, D-Camden/Burlington, of Voorhees, who will return as Assembly majority leader.
   ”This is a strong leadership team that will build upon the great accomplishments of the Assembly Democratic majority,” Assemblyman Prieto said. “We know we still have more work to do to make New Jersey more affordable for hardworking families struggling under a crushing property tax burden, high unemployment and difficulties such as soaring higher education costs, and we will be tireless when it comes to representing their needs.”
   The Assembly’s reorganization is set for Jan. 14.
Greenwald leader
   The Assembly Democratic Majority has chosen Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, D-Camden, Burlington, to continue serving as majority leader of the General Assembly for the 216th Legislature that convenes in January.
   First elected to the Assembly in 1996, Assemblyman Greenwald said he was inspired to public service by watching his late mother, Maria Barnaby Greenwald, the legendary first woman mayor of Cherry Hill, bring people together to solve problems and advocate for senior citizens and middle-class families.
   From her, he said he learned the value of standing up for beliefs and bringing people together to solve problems at an early age.
   Throughout his service in the Assembly, Assemblyman Greenwald has been the architect of auto insurance reform, reformed the hospital charity care system, revised New Jersey’s school funding formula, led a fight to pass property tax relief credits for middle-class families and championed common sense ideas to reduce gun violence.
   Assemblyman Greenwald — who became majority leader in 2012 after serving as Assembly Budget Committee chairman from 2002 to 2011 — pledged to continue to emulate these values in the 216th Legislature:
   ”I am humbled and honored to be returning to the Assembly as the majority leader,” he said. “I truly believe there is no higher honor than serving the people of New Jersey.
   ”The voters in New Jersey spoke clearly on Tuesday. Despite an onslaught from Gov. Christie, New Jerseyans returned a strong Democratic majority to the Assembly.
   ”That’s because Assembly Democrats represent New Jersey’s key priorities, whether it’s standing up for middle-class property tax relief, fighting to create jobs and lead a middle-class economic recovery, taking a common sense approach to preventing gun violence or supporting women’s health care.
   ”With an average net property tax increase of 20 percent over the past four years and one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, New Jerseyans know Assembly Democrats will put middle-class families first, not millionaires.
   ”Over the past two years, we fought hard to deliver middle-class property tax relief and create good-paying jobs.
   ”And make no mistake: When it comes to standing up for middle-class families, we will never give up the fight.
   ”I look forward to working with Speaker Prieto and the rest of the Democratic caucus to advance a strong middle-class agenda in the upcoming legislative session.”
Mold exposure
   Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel R. Benson, Celeste M. Riley and Ruben Ramos requiring the state to establish standards for exposure limits to mold in residential buildings and certification of mold inspectors and abatement workers has been approved by a Senate committee.
   The bill (A1588) would require the state Department of Community Affairs in consultation with the state Department of Health and Senior Services to establish standards for exposure limits to mold in residential buildings and procedures for the inspection, identification and evaluation of the interior of residential buildings for mold.
   ”This creates rules and regulations that currently don’t exist to protect the public health and safety against mold,” said Assemblyman Benson, D-Mercer, Middlesex. “Mold presents a particular problem for sensitive populations like children or people with compromised immune systems or respiratory problems, and right now, there is no agency they can call to get help when it comes to mold.”
   ”Mold can exacerbate health problems, including asthma and allergies in children, and currently there are no standards to control its harmful potential,” said Assemblywoman Riley, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem. “Other states have passed laws establishing guidelines, and now it’s time for New Jersey to follow suit and protect its residents against the health risks that can be caused by mold.”
   ”Considering the health implications, it is hard to believe that there are currently no regulations concerning mold or no agency that a person whose health or property has been compromised by mold can call for assistance,” said Assemblyman Ramos, D-Hudson. “This bill makes up for this failure by putting in place guidelines to help protect the public against the health threats associated with mold exposure.”
   Under the bill, the DCA also would be required to:
   • Establish standards for mold hazard abatement procedures, including specialized cleaning, repairs, maintenance, painting, temporary containment and ongoing monitoring of mold hazards or potential hazards.
   • Establish a certification program for persons who inspect for the presence of mold hazards in residential buildings and who perform mold hazard abatement work in residential buildings.
   However, residential property owners who are not certified under the bill may perform mold inspection and mold abatement work on their own property.
   • Require any person performing work in school facilities to be certified under the mold hazard inspection and abatement certification program established under the bill.
   On the first day of the sixth month following the adoption of these rules and regulations, any person who inspects for the presence of mold hazards in residential buildings and performs mold hazard abatement work in residential buildings would be required to be certified by the DCA.
   The DCA must adopt the standards within a year after the bill is enacted into law.
   The bill was released by the Senate Environment and Energy Committee and awaits further consideration by the full Senate. It was approved by the full Assembly in March.