Two statewide ballot questions approved

New Jersey voters approved two statewide ballot questions on Election Day, Nov. 4.

Final vote totals for the public questions were not immediately available; however, organizations that supported the passage of the questions reported the success of the initiative for which they advocated.

The first ballot question focused on the pretrial detention of certain suspects. An amendment to the state Constitution means a court could order that a person remain in jail prior to trial, even without a chance for the person to post bail, in some situations.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) supported the passage of the question because it said certain aspects of New Jersey’s bail process will be reformed in a manner the organization supports.

ACLU-NJ Executive Director Udi Ofer said, “This is truly a historic day for New Jersey, one in which the people of our state recognized injustice and demanded that it change. A bipartisan effort in the Legislature, the governor’s signature and tonight’s overwhelming support at the polls puts New Jersey on the path toward greater justice. “Within a few years, we will no longer see thousands of people languishing in New Jersey jails simply because they cannot afford to post bail. Society does not benefit when people are made to await trial behind bars for months or even years simply because they cannot afford a few thousand dollars in bail. These debtors’ prisons must end. We will also see, for the first time, meaningful speedy trial protections in New Jersey.

“Our criminal justice system today is plagued with grave inequities, especially for poor people and people of color. The passage of this amendment is an important step toward creating a criminal justice system that treats people equitably regardless of their wealth. More reforms are needed and we have work ahead of us to achieve them but, today, we celebrate the remarkable milestone of true bail reform in the state of New Jersey,” Ofer said.

The second public question asked voters if they wanted to approve a constitutional amendment that dedicates state funds for open space, farmland and historic preservation; and changes the existing dedication of funds for water programs and underground storage tank and hazardous site cleanups.

The constitution currently dedicates 4 percent of the money collected from the corporation business tax to help pay for some environmental programs. The passage of the amendment will raise the amount from 4 percent to 6 percent beginning on July 1, 2019.

Beginning July 1, 2015, the amendment will change some of the programs funded by the current dedication. The new dedication would be used mostly to preserve and steward open space, farmland, historic sites and flood-prone areas. Funds will also be used to improve water quality, remove and clean up underground tanks, and clean up polluted sites.

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said that from 2016-19, 4 percent from the business tax will go to open space, generating about $70 million per year. After 2019, 6 percent will be dedicated to open space, generating about $150 million if the economy improves. “This is big a victory for open space and keeping the Garden State green. This victory is critical for New Jersey’s future and protecting open space for future generations.

“Protecting open space helps our economy through tourism and redevelopment in urban areas. It helps public health and recreation.

“The voters clearly understand that investing in open space is investing in our future. … Preserving farmland keeps our agriculture industry viable. By buying open space we also protect the water supply, which helps protect New Jersey’s largest industries like food processing and pharmaceuticals. We would have hurt ourselves both environmentally and economically if we did not pass this ballot question.

“By passing this ballot question we not only stopped sprawl, but we will make sure there are open spaces for future generations. We have to make sure as we implement this that other programs do not get hurt in the process,” Tittel said.

— Mark Rosman