Update: 26-year-old Man Remains In Critical Condition From Monday’s Accident On Rt. 29, Crash Remains Under Investigation

February 25, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–According to Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office Casey DeBlasio a 26-year-old man from Trenton, remains hospitalized in critical condition.

DeBlasio said: “On Monday, February 22, 2021 at 4:20 pm Trenton Police Officers responded to State Route 29 and Calhoun Street after receiving calls for a serious motor vehicle crash. Officers discovered an overturned vehicle and a victim in critical condition.  Early investigation indicates it was a one-vehicle collision with the driver/victim being the only occupant of the vehicle, a black BMW.  There were reports of the vehicle driving at a high rate of speed prior to the collision and there is no evidence that indicates any additional vehicles were involved.  It remains under investigation by the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office Serious Collision Response Team.”

Related MidJersey.News story: Serious crash at Rt.29 & Calhoun St under investigation

Action to Promote Access to Mental Health Care for Frontline Healthcare Workers and Low-Income Individuals Announced

Mental Health Care Professionals Can Now Partially Satisfy Continuing Education Requirements with Volunteer Work

February 25, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–As part of the State’s efforts to expand access to mental health care during the COVID-19 public health emergency, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced that the Division of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is taking action to encourage mental health care professionals to provide free services to New Jerseyans in need.
 Under an Administrative Order signed by Acting DCA Director Kaitlin A. Caruso, mental health professionals will be allowed to partially satisfy their continuing education requirements by providing free services to low income, uninsured individuals or frontline healthcare workers. The Order also allows mental health professionals to partially satisfy their continuing education requirements by volunteering with organizations that provide mental health services – including crisis intervention and referrals – to low-income, uninsured individuals or to individuals in crisis. A non-exhaustive list of such organizations is available on DCA’s website.
 “This week’s action by the Division of Consumer Affairs will make it easier for New Jersey residents who face mental health challenges to get help,” said Attorney General Grewal. “I commend the Division and the professional boards for coming together to find a way to promote access to care for those in need, including frontline healthcare workers experiencing stress related to their support of the COVID-19 response.”
 The Order allows mental health professionals to use hours spent providing eligible volunteer services to satisfy a portion of the continuing education credits required for license renewal, with the cap depending on the type of license they hold. Practitioners may offset one hour or one credit of continuing education for every two hours spent on eligible volunteer work. However, practitioners will not be able to offset continuing education requirements specifically allocated to required topics such as ethics, cultural competency, opioid prescribing, or jurisprudence.
 “By partially freeing up time for mental health care professionals this Order will make it easier for practitioners to give back during this time of crisis,” said Kaitlin A. Caruso, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We all want, at-risk residents to have more access to professional mental health care services at this time of need.”
 “The mental and emotional health effects caused by worry, stress or isolation related to coronavirus has hit especially hard those already suffering from mental health conditions and substance use disorders,” said Sharon Joyce, Director of the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES). “Increasing access to mental health services during the COVID-19 pandemic is critical for this vulnerable population and the State’s fight against the opioid epidemic.” “These have been difficult and stressful times, and we are committed to doing everything possible to expand access to mental health care across the state,” Human Services Acting Commissioner Sarah Adelman said. “This is another step to further improve access to mental health care for healthcare workers and individuals with lower incomes.” The caps on the number of continuing education contact hours or credits that may be offset by providing volunteer services were established by DCA in consultation with the presidents of the relevant professional boards:

  • A licensed marriage and family therapist may offset up to 20 contact hours;
  • A licensed associate marriage and family therapist may offset up to 10 contact hours;
  • A licensed professional counselor or licensed associate professional counselor may offset up to 20 contact hours;
  • A licensed rehabilitation counselor may offset up to 10 contact hours;
  • A licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor may offset up to 10 contact hours;
  • A certified alcohol and drug counselor may offset up to 15 contact hours;
  • A licensed art therapist may offset up to 10 contact hours;
  • A physician who provides psychiatric services may offset up to 10 Category I continuing medical education credits;
  • An advanced practice nurse who provides psychiatric services may offset up to 15 hours of continuing education;
  • A licensed psychologist may offset up to 10 credits of continuing education;
  • A State-certified psychoanalyst may offset up to 5 credits of continuing education; and
  • A licensed clinical social worker may offset up to 10 credits of continuing education.

The Order authorizing professionals to offset continuing education requirements with volunteer work will expire automatically at the end of the state of emergency or public health emergency, whichever is later, if not revoked or superseded earlier. Eligible volunteer services provided while the Order is in effect may be used to offset continuing education requirements in any biennial renewal period during which the Order remains in effect for more than one day. Additional information is available on DCA’s website. The Department of Law & Public Safety is committed to eliminating stigma around receiving mental health services. DCA encourages all healthcare professionals who wish to receive mental health services to do so without fear of jeopardizing their licenses. Similarly, the Attorney General has established the New Jersey Resiliency Program for Law Enforcement to ensure that law enforcement officers are provided with the tools they need to cope with the unique stressors of their jobs. NJMentalHealthCares is New Jersey’s behavioral health information and referral service. Trained staff are available to provide free emotional support seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. by calling 1-866-202-HELP (4357), sending an email to help@njmentalhealthcares.org, or texting NJHOPE to 51864. Healthcare workers can call HEAL NJ Healthcare Workers help line for emotional support at 1-833-416-8773 and first responders can reach RISE NJ First Responders help line at 1-833-237-4325 for free and confidential assistance. Anyone can also call New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline at 1-855-NJHopeline (654-6735), or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.Those battling addiction, can contact ReachNJ at 1-844-ReachNJ. For emergencies, call 911.

WANTED: Florida Man Charged With Theft By Deception

February 22, 2021

BARNEGAT TOWNSHIP, NJ (OCEAN)–Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer and Barnegat Township Police Chief Keith A. Germain announced that on February 12, 2021, Juan C. Piedrahita, 49, of Hollywood, Florida, was charged with Theft by Deception in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:20-4.

The charges are the result of a joint investigation conducted by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Economic Crimes Unit and Barnegat Township Police Department Detective Bureau in January 2021.  The investigation revealed that Piedrahita, posing as an attorney, telephonically contacted an elderly victim advising him that his nephew had been in a motor vehicle accident.  Piedrahita convinced the victim that his nephew was under arrest and that $10,000 cash bail was needed to secure his release.  The victim obtained the cash and met Piedrahita – now posing as a courier – at a CVS parking lot in Barnegat.  After leaving the parking lot, the elderly victim was contacted once again and instructed to provide an additional $10,000 as payment to the alleged victim of the purported motor vehicle accident.  It was only when the victim was questioned by bank staff that he contacted his nephew and confirmed that his nephew was not in actual trouble.  Detectives were able to obtain surveillance footage of the area surrounding the CVS parking lot, which captured the rental vehicle Piedrahita had rented at Newark International Airport, and were thereafter able to confirm Piedrahita’s identity based on that footage.

Juan C. Piedrahita’s location is presently unknown, and a Warrant for his arrest has been issued.  Anyone in possession of information concerning Piedrahita’s whereabouts is urged to contact Detective James Purcell of the Barnegat Township Police Department at 609-698-5000, extension 262.

“Sadly, these types of scams targeting senior citizens are all too prevalent in Ocean County,” Prosecutor Billhimer stated.  “I urge our residents to speak with their elderly family members about potential scams that target seniors, so as to prevent them from falling victim to predators seeking to cheat and extort them,” Prosecutor Billhimer concluded.

Prosecutor Billhimer and Chief Germain commend the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Economic Crimes Unit and Barnegat Township Police Department Detective Bureau for their collaborative efforts in connection with this investigation.

The press and the public are reminded that all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Governor Murphy Presents Fiscal Year 2022 Budget: Investing in a Stronger, Fairer, and More Resilient Post-Pandemic New Jersey

February 23, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Governor Phil Murphy delivered his fourth annual budget address on Tuesday, outlining a responsible spending proposal for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY2022) that includes critical investments to help New Jersey emerge from the pandemic stronger, fairer, and more resilient, while making a full pension payment for the first time in more than a quarter of a century, providing the highest level of school funding in history, delivering direct tax rebates to over 760,000 middle-class families, and providing $200 million in relief for small businesses. 

“This budget lives up to our stronger and fairer mission,” said Governor Murphy. “Stronger to come out of the pandemic with an economy that works for every New Jersey family. Fairer to help families and small businesses hit hard and left behind in the pandemic’s brutal wake. This budget will continue to stabilize property taxes for hardworking families. This budget will continue the hard work of moving forward – not only from the pandemic – but from years of neglect. Our problems weren’t created overnight and, frankly, they won’t be fixed overnight. But I know that brighter days lay ahead.” 

The proposed FY2022 budget makes good on the Governor’s promise to public employees by including an additional $1.6 billion to meet the goal of contributing 100 percent of the Actuarially Determined Contribution (ADC) to New Jersey’s pension system a year earlier than initially planned. The proposed $6.4 billion pension payment, which includes contributions from the State lottery, would mark the first time the State has made a full contribution since FY1996.  

The State has been on a 1/10 ramp up plan as it works its way up to meeting the full pension contribution and was initially slated to contribute 90 percent of the full contribution this year. The Governor’s decision to make a 100 percent contribution a year early will substantially reduce the State’s obligation in the coming years, saving taxpayers $861 million over the next 30 years. The combined pension contributions by the Murphy Administration in four years will roughly total an unprecedented $18 billion, which is $9.4 billion more than the prior Governor contributed over two terms. 

The $44.83 billion spending proposal assumes 2.4 percent growth in total revenue and includes a sizable surplus of $2.193 billion, just under five percent of budgeted appropriations and dwarfing the average of the previous administration. Revenue projections have improved in part due to record high stock markets, federal stimulus that directly aided individuals and businesses, as well as what economists describe as a K-shaped recession, which has seen middle and high-income households recover more quickly while low-income households have continued to struggle. 

The budget proposal aims to address these inequities by directing resources where they are needed most in order to build a stronger post-pandemic New Jersey. The Governor is committed to investing significant resources to ensure the State does not repeat the same mistakes made during the Great Recession when New Jersey was one of the last states to recover from the financial crisis after drastically cutting state aid. 

As a result of last year’s millionaires tax enactment, the proposed FY2022 budget includes $319 million in direct tax relief for middle-class families, which will provide up to a $500 rebate to over 760,000 couples and individuals with qualified dependents. The budget also includes $1.25 billion in funding to support various property tax relief programs. Additionally, it includes funding to:

  • Expand the Veterans’ Property Tax Deduction to those who served in peacetime;
  • Make the Child and Dependent Care Credit refundable and expand eligibility to families making up to $150,000, more than doubling eligibility to aid 148,000 taxpayers; and 
  • Expand eligibility for the Earned Income Tax Credit to roughly 70,000 senior citizens without dependents.

The proposed budget also includes a new multi-departmental economic growth initiative that will boost economic recovery in New Jersey communities, provide access to capital for minority-owned businesses, and help government support sustainable economic growth. This roughly $200 million investment initiative includes:

  • $100 million allocated from the recently passed Economic Recovery Act Main Street Recovery Finance program ($50 million is available in FY2021 and an additional $50 million is proposed for FY2022);
  • $25 million for EDA’s lending programs such as Premier Lender and Microbusinesses;
  • $20 million for the NJRA’s Urban Site Acquisition Fund and Redevelopment Investment Fund, the first State investment in the NJRA since 2002;
  • $15 million for Permit Modernization across State departments and for local governments;
  • $13.5 million for the Department of Transportation’s Local Aid and Economic Development Grants, including the Transit Village, Safe Streets to Transit, and Bikeways programs;
  • $10 million for EDA’s Black and Latinx Seed Fund initiative;
  • $6.5 million for DCA’s Neighborhood Preservation Program and Main Street New Jersey, allowing each to expand to significantly more communities;
  • $5 million for the Department of State’s Business Marketing Initiative;
  • $3.2 million for the Commission on Science, Innovation and Technology;
  • $1 million for EDA’s NJ Ignite; and
  • $500,000 to double funding for EDA’s Small Businesses Bonding Readiness Assistance program 

The proposed FY2022 budget furthers the Governor’s historic commitment to education by increasing formula aid by $578 million. Over the last four years, direct pre-K through grade 12 spending statewide has increased by nearly $1.5 billion, putting New Jersey on the path to fully funding the constitutional school funding formula. The Governor’s proposed budget will:

  • Expand the state investment in pre-K by $50 million, including $26 million for new programs.
  • Increase Extraordinary Special Education Aid by $25 million; and
  • Provide $50 million in Stabilization Aid,  

Additionally, the proposed budget boldly strives to make higher education more attainable for more New Jersey students and further assist colleges by:

  • Allocating $50 million to fund The Garden State Guarantee, which provides two years of free tuition at four-year institutions for students with household incomes of less than $65,000;
  • Investing $27 million in the Community College Opportunity Grant (CCOG) program, which provides tuition-free community college for eligible students;
  • Increasing funding for the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) by $2.8 million for a total of $51.8 million, which will cover the identifiable undergraduate student capacity needs for the academic year for the first time; and
  • Increasing aid to community colleges by $5 million, aligned with an outcomes-based framework. 

The budget proposal also includes significant quality of life investments to make New Jersey a healthier and more affordable place to live, including:

  • Investing an additional $25 million in NJ Health Plan Savings subsidies;
  • Launching the “Cover All Kids” initiative with the ultimate goal of ensuring affordable, accessible health coverage is available to nearly 88,000 children without coverage;
  • Raising the income threshold by $10,000 for the Pharmaceutical Assistance for the Aged and Disabled and Senior Gold programs, which will benefit over 20,000 seniors;
  • $19 million to support the new Reproductive Health Care Fund, which will cover costs for contraceptive, prenatal, labor, and delivery care for those without access to medical assistance;
  • $19.5 million for Family Planning Services, bringing the total the Governor will have provided over four years to nearly $74 million, after years of defunding by the prior administration; 
  • $8.5 million to expand Medicaid coverage for 365 days postpartum and $2 million to create a new pilot program to support rental assistance for expecting mothers, both of which will advance the First Lady’s Nurture NJ initiative; and
  • $20 million for the Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency’s Down Payment Assistance program, providing nearly 2,000 mortgages for first time homebuyers. 

The Governor is also proposing significant direct appropriation investments, including $200 million for the Offshore Wind Port and $200 million for current Schools Development Authority (SDA) projects to reduce debt issuance; $75 million for the SDA’s Capital Maintenance and Emergent Needs Grant program; $60 million to support the continuation of the Drinking Water and Clean Water Infrastructure Fund; and $86.6 million for critical capital improvements, including emergent life safety and IT projects. 

The FY2022 budget proposal also increases total resources for NJ TRANSIT to $2.65 billion, nine percent over FY2021 and 15 percent over FY2019. It also continues to reduce diversions from the agency’s capital fund for operating costs, marking the lowest transfer in 15 years, and for the fourth consecutive year there will be no fare hike. 

The proposed budget also continues to build on the progress the Murphy Administration has made to address the inequities in New Jersey’s criminal justice system by including funding to help lessen the burden on individuals seeking expungement of criminal records; equip local police officers with body-worn cameras; develop software to make law enforcement forfeiture actions more transparent; allow incarcerated individuals placed in isolated confinement to undergo daily examinations by health professionals; and support implementation of the “Earn Your Way Out” law

Additionally, the proposed budget includes both new and increased investments for the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) and the Department of Corrections (DOC):

  • $5 million to improve internet infrastructure for DOC’s incarcerated population to access education, employment, and legal materials;
  • $4.2 million more for county Youth Services Commissions to reduce juvenile delinquency;
  • $3 million to help fund non-profits that facilitate re-entry;  
  • $2.25 million for the Scholarship and Transformative Education in Prison Program; and
  • at least $2 million in support for a new career training program at JJC and an apprenticeship program and other career services for DOC inmates. 

For more information on the Governor’s proposed budget and policies, check out the Budget in Brief online. 

Additional one-page policy papers on the central commitments that have underpinned Governor Murphy’s first four budget proposals – record pension payments, historic education funding, rebuilding NJ TRANSIT, investing in economic growth, expanding access to housing. and continuing progress on criminal justice reform – are also available here.

UPDATE: Double shooting in Trenton leaves one dead, one hospitalized

February 23, 2021

See MidJersey.News’ related Breaking News story here: Two shot, one critical in Trenton shooting at Sunoco Gas Station

By: Tyler Eckel

TRENTON (MERCER)– The Mercer County Homicide Task Force and the Trenton Police Shooting Response Team are investigating a shooting that occurred Monday night that left one dead, one hospitalized, Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo J Onofri reported.

The shooting occurred around 6:30 pm Monday, when Trenton Police responded to the Sunoco Gas Station located at 110 Sanhican Drive on multiple calls reporting two people shot. Upon arrival, Trenton Police discovered two males shot out front of the store. Both victims were transported to the Trauma Center at Capital Health Regional Medical Center.

Khalil Gibbs, 25, of West Windsor was shot in the torso and transported to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead a few hours later. A second victim, a 20-year-old Trenton resident, was shot in the face and remains hospitalized.

No arrests have been made in connection to the shooting.

Trenton Police Director Sheilah A. Coley released in a statement, “First and foremost, our condolences go out to the families of the victims of this senseless violence.  The Trenton Police Department has been working with the community in an effort to reduce crime in the city, particularly violent crime.  After a very difficult 2020, our cooperative efforts seem to be helping.  We have not seen a murder in the city for 76 days.  While this is not a cause for celebration, we believe it was because of our efforts to work directly with the community and we will continue to do so.  Additionally, our law enforcement partners play an integral part in crime reduction.  We will continue to work alongside our county, state, and federal law enforcement partners as part of a coordinated plan to root out drugs and guns in our neighborhoods. The result of such coordination was seen in a recent joint operation just last month that seized multiple firearms and arrested 18 individuals, several of whom were wanted for murder.”

This is Trenton’s first homicide of 2021.

Anyone with information is asked to call (609)989-6406. Information can also be emailed to mchtftips@mercercounty.org.

Serious crash at Rt.29 & Calhoun St under investigation

February 22, 2021

By: Tyler Eckel

Update: 26-year-old Man Remains In Critical Condition From Monday’s Accident On Rt. 29, Crash Remains Under Investigation

BREAKING NEWS REPORT: This report is based off of radio reports, on scene information, and sources. If more information becomes available, the post will be updated.

TRENTON (MERCER)– The Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating a serious crash that occurred at Route 29 and Calhoun Street Monday night.

It occurred around 4:20 pm, when Trenton Police were sent to the scene on multiple callers reporting a serious crash. Officers discovered an overturned vehicle with a person trapped. Trenton Fire Department responded and quickly extricated the patient. The patient was handed over to Trenton EMS and Capital Health Paramedics in critical condition.

The area remains shut down for the investigation.

Little Egg Harbor man killed in Lakewood shooting

February 22, 2021

By: Tyler Eckel

LAKEWOOD TOWNSHIP (OCEAN)– Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer and Lakewood Township Police Chief Gregory Meyer announced that on February 21, 2021, at approximately 7:40 p.m., Lakewood Township Police were summoned to the area of Tudor Court in response to a 911 call regarding a male who had collapsed in the middle of the road. Responding Officers found Dajour Randolph, 20, of Little Egg Harbor, with an apparent gunshot wound to the chest. Mr. Randolph was transported to Monmouth Medical Center, Southern Campus, in Lakewood, where he subsequently succumbed to his injuries and was pronounced deceased.

Prosecutor Billhimer and Chief Meyer wish to emphasize that this is an active and ongoing investigation by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Major Crime Unit, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office High Tech Crime Unit, Lakewood Township Police Department, and Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit, and that there is no known danger to the public at this time. 

Anyone in possession of information concerning this investigation is urged to contact Detective Brant Uricks of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office at 732-929-2027, or Detective Eric Cicerello of the Lakewood Township Police Department at 732-363-0200.

Two shot, one critical in Trenton shooting at Sunoco Gas Station

February 22, 2021

By: Tyler Eckel

See MidJersey.News’ updated story here: UPDATE: Double shooting in Trenton leaves one dead, one hospitalized

BREAKING NEWS REPORT: This is a breaking news report based off of radio talk, on scene information, and close sources. Once information becomes available, the story will be updated and corrections will be made.

TRENTON (MERCER)– Two people were transported to the hospital with gunshot wounds Monday night after shots rang out in the 100 block of Sanhican Drive.

The double shooting occurred around 6:27 pm. Trenton Police responded to 110 Sanhican Drive, at the Sunoco Gas Station, after receiving multiple calls reporting two people shot. Officers arrived on scene and did, in fact, located two people shot at the location.

Trenton EMS, Capital Health Paramedics, and EMS engines from the Trenton Fire Department responded to the scene. Trenton EMS and Capital Health Paramedics transported both victims to Capital Health Regional Medical Center with “Trauma Alerts” called.

Sources close to the investigation tell MidJersey.News that early reports indicate that one of the victims is in critical condition.

The shooting is under investigation by Trenton Police Shooting Response Team.

Lakewood Man Sentenced To Prison For Leaving The Scene Of A Fatal Motor Vehicle Accident

February 22, 2021

Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer announced that on February 22, 2021, Mashon Wilson, 30, of Lakewood, was sentenced by the Honorable Steven F. Nemeth, J.S.C., to six years New Jersey State Prison (NJSP) as a result of a previously entered guilty plea to Knowingly Leaving the Scene of a Motor Vehicle Accident Resulting in Death in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:11-5.1, relative to a motor vehicle crash that occurred on November 25, 2018 in Lakewood. Judge Nemeth likewise sentenced Wilson to forty-five days in the Ocean County Jail with credit for time served, and suspended his driving privileges for a period of six months, regarding his guilty plea to Driving While Suspended in violation of N.J.S.A. 39:3-40, also in connection with the November 28, 2018 motor vehicle crash.  Additionally, Wilson was sentenced to four years NJSP by Judge Nemeth as a result of his previously entered guilty plea to an unrelated charge of Burglary in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:18-2.  The sentences will run concurrently. Wilson pled guilty to all charges on January 8, 2021 before the Honorable Guy P. Ryan, J.S.C.

On November 25, 2018, at approximately 7:00 a.m., Lakewood Police responded to the area of West County Line Road and Cedar Road to investigate a two vehicle accident involving a fatality.  Upon arrival, they found that a 2019 Chevrolet Suburban had crashed into a tree; the driver was critically injured, and the passenger was pronounced dead on the scene.  Further investigation determined that the other vehicle involved in the accident, a 2018 Nissan Sentra, had fled the scene.  Police traced the car to a residence in Lakewood.  At the residence, they located Wilson and two other individuals — Shayna Lee (49) and Iyanna Hall (30) — both of Lakewood.  Lee and Hall told police that Lee was the driver of the Nissan in question, and had left the scene of the accident.  Subsequent investigation revealed that Wilson was, in fact, the driver of the vehicle, and that Lee and Hall had given false statements to the police.  Lee and Hall were both charged with Hindering the Apprehension of Another by Giving a False Statement to a Police Officer in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3a(7).  Those charges remain pending.

Prosecutor Billhimer acknowledges the diligent efforts of Senior Assistant Prosecutor Jamie Schron who handled the case on behalf of the State, as well as the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Vehicular Homicide Unit, Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office Victim Witness Advocacy Unit, Lakewood Township Police Department, and Ocean County Sheriff’s Office Crime Scene Investigation Unit, for their collaborative efforts in connection with this investigation, ultimately resulting in Wilson’s state prison sentence.

Governor Murphy Signs Historic Adult-Use Cannabis Reform Bills Into Law

Enabling Legislation Creates a Well-Regulated Adult-Use Cannabis Market

Additional Legislation Brings Equity and Fairness to Outdated Drug Laws

February 22, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Governor Phil Murphy today signed historic adult-use cannabis reform bills into law, legalizing and regulating cannabis use and possession for adults 21 years and older (A21 – “The New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act”) and decriminalizing marijuana and hashish possession (A1897). The Governor also signed S3454, clarifying marijuana and cannabis use and possession penalties for individuals younger than 21 years old.  

“Our current marijuana prohibition laws have failed every test of social justice, which is why for years I’ve strongly supported the legalization of adult-use cannabis. Maintaining a status quo that allows tens of thousands, disproportionately people of color, to be arrested in New Jersey each year for low-level drug offenses is unjust and indefensible,” said Governor Murphy. “This November, New Jerseyans voted overwhelmingly in support of creating a well-regulated adult-use cannabis market. Although this process has taken longer than anticipated, I believe it is ending in the right place and will ultimately serve as a national model. 

“This legislation will establish an industry that brings equity and economic opportunity to our communities, while establishing minimum standards for safe products and allowing law enforcement to focus their resources on real public safety matters,” continued Governor Murphy. “Today, we’re taking a monumental step forward to reduce racial disparities in our criminal justice system, while building a promising new industry and standing on the right side of history. I’d like to thank the Legislature, advocates, faith leaders, and community leaders for their dedicated work and partnership on this critical issue.” 

“At long last, New Jersey is turning the page on our previous treatment of marijuana use,” said Dianna Houenou, incoming Chair of the New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC). “I am excited to get to work building on the successes of the medical program and standing up the adult-use cannabis industry. It’s an honor to be part of this historic movement in New Jersey.” 

“The failed War on Drugs has systematically targeted people of color and the poor, disproportionately impacting Black and Brown communities and hurting families in New Jersey and across our nation,” said U.S Senator Cory Booker. “Today is a historic day, and I applaud Governor Murphy, the legislature, and the many advocates for racial and social justice whose leadership is ensuring that New Jersey is at the forefront of equitable marijuana legalization policy. I will continue to work with my colleagues in the Senate to end the federal marijuana prohibition so we can finally begin healing the wounds of decades of injustice.”

“This is a historic reform that will have a real-life impact on social justice, law enforcement and the state’s economy,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney. “We can now move forward to correct social injustices at the same time that marijuana is made legal for adults. This  will launch a new cannabis industry with the potential to create jobs and generate economic activity at a time when it is desperately needed. The decriminalization law is the most sweeping measure of its kind in the country and is a groundbreaking step in our continued effort to make criminal justice reforms that are fairer and more effective. This will help reduce the racial disparities and social inequities that have long plagued our criminal justice system.”

“For the last fifty years, marijuana criminalization has been used as a tool to propel mass incarceration,” said Senator Sandra Cunningham. “It has done immeasurable harm to Black and Brown communities around the country, and today we begin to right the ship here in New Jersey. I look forward to seeing the tangible impact this legislation has on our communities in the years to come.” 

“I am proud to have been a driving force behind the most progressive decriminalization law in the country and I am grateful to finally see it enacted,” said Senator Teresa Ruiz. “Every day roughly 100 people in New Jersey are arrested for marijuana possession, this law is a move that offers individuals a second chance and ensures they do not become entangled in the criminal justice system. This is yet another step towards bringing justice and equity to our communities. Going forward, we must continue to look for creative solutions to reverse the generational impact the War on Drugs has had.”

“This will usher in a new era of social justice by doing away with the failed policy that criminalized the use of marijuana,” said Senator Nicholas Scutari, the leading advocate of legalizing adult-use marijuana in New Jersey over the past decade. “Too many people have been arrested, incarcerated and left with criminal records that disrupt and even destroy their lives. We don’t want the criminal justice system to be an unfair barrier to success. By implementing a regulated system that allows people age 21 and over to purchase limited amounts of marijuana for personal use we will bring marijuana out of the underground market where it can be controlled, regulated and taxed, just as alcohol has been for decades. New Jersey will now be a leader in legalizing a once stigmatized drug in ways that will help the communities hurt the most by the War on Drugs and realize the economic benefits of the new adult-use cannabis market.” 

“We’re moving closer to the long-overdue need to end cannabis prohibition,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano. “So much time, effort, and thought have gone into this legislation. We’ve continued conversations, for what I believe, has produced a stronger piece of legislation with a focused eye toward social justice and equity. This is the beginning of a new era of economic opportunity, social justice for marijuana possession, and hope for a better future for thousands of New Jersey residents.”

“With legalization comes an unprecedented opportunity for residents to clean the slate with expungement provisions and for communities to grow their economic base with businesses,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley. “A key component of cannabis legalization is addressing social justice concerns. The fact that Black New Jerseyans are 3 or 4 times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges has contributed to the disenfranchisement of black communities. We have the opportunity here to also right the wrongs in our society in regards to past criminal possession of cannabis. No matter where you stand in the legalized marijuana debate, there has been a clear understanding that minorities within our urban communities have been hit hardest in the so-called War on Drugs. During this entire campaign for legalization, there has been one united vocal stance: There was harm done in the past and it must be corrected.”

“This new law includes real, enterprising opportunities for New Jersey communities that have been disproportionately impacted by cannabis prohibition, along with more defined employment opportunities and a commission that requires diversity,” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake. “This will be a clear revenue generator for the State, and the social justice and diversity portion in the legislation remains imperative.”  

“Undoubtedly, this is the largest regulatory undertaking the state has considered since the Casino Control Commission,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. “Remaining at status quo meant continued disparity in arrests for African Americans and teens for amounts now to be considered personal use.  We are moving the state in a direction more compassionate for cannabis and in line with what is happening across the country in regards to legalization.”

“This has been a long time coming in our State,” said Assemblyman Joseph Danielsen. “who chairs the Assembly Federal Relations and Oversight Reform Committee led the discussion on the bill in today’s hearing. “Social justice for black and brown communities, which have been generationally impacted by cannabis prohibition, and equity in business are priorities in this legislation. We cannot fairly, or effectively provide regulation without ensuring these communities stay at the forefront of the conversation.”

“New Jersey voters on November 3rd issued the Legislature a mandate: to provide the infrastructure for the legalization of cannabis in New Jersey. Today, we move on that directive by presenting legislation for discussion with fellow legislation and statewide stakeholders,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. “The War on Drugs in many ways became a war on particular communities, incarcerating millions of black and brown people and affecting families irreparably for decades. Our work on refining this legislation aims to correct the economic and social justice disparities surrounding cannabis use.”

“With Governor Murphy’s signature, the decades-long practice of racist marijuana enforcement will begin to recede, in a shift that emphasizes the urgency of building the most equitable framework possible for cannabis legalization,” said Amol Sinha, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, which is a founding member of New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform. “With this historic reform, New Jersey also shifts our approach to youth possession and use by moving away from the punitive status quo to a framework that values public health, harm reduction, and the well-being of young people. Our state’s cannabis laws can set a new standard for what justice can look like, with the removal of criminal penalties for possession and an unprecedented portion of tax revenue dedicated to addressing the harms wrought by the drug war. Signing these laws puts in motion the next phase of this effort: to work relentlessly to transform the principles of legalization into greater racial and social justice in New Jersey. This is a new beginning – and the culmination of years of advocacy – and we must keep in mind that it is only the start.”

Under A21, the Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) will promulgate regulations to govern the medical and adult-use industries and oversee the applications for licensing of cannabis businesses. The legislation further provides for the Legislature to reinvest cannabis revenues in designated “impact zones”; directs the CRC to promote diversity and inclusion in business ownership; and contains critical employment protections for people who engage in lawful behavior with respect to cannabis.

A1897 reforms criminal and civil penalties for marijuana and hashish offenses, as well as provides remedies for people currently facing certain marijuana charges. The bill prevents unlawful low-level distribution and possession offenses from being used in pretrial release, probation, and parole decisions and provides certain protections against discrimination in employment, housing, and places of public accommodation. The bill also creates a pathway to vacate active sentences for certain offenses committed before enactment of the enabling legislation. 

The Governor today also signed S3454 into law, clarifying penalties for marijuana and cannabis possession and consumption for individuals younger than 21 years old. The legislation corrects inconsistencies in A21 and A1897 concerning marijuana and cannabis penalties for those underage. 

“I have been working on decriminalizing adult-use marijuana for well over three years now, and I am happy to finally see it become a reality,” said Senator Ronald Rice. “This is a common-sense and just law that gives an equal playing field for folks in communities of color. Many have argued that legalizing adult-use marijuana has been for social, economic and criminal justice, however, decriminalization for me, is equally as important. I will continue to watch closely and fight to ensure communities of color are treated equally.”

“This is only one piece in the many parts of change that must be done in the name of social justice for our communities. The War on Drugs in many ways became a war on particular communities, incarcerating millions of people and affecting families irreparably for decades,” said Assemblyman Benjie Wimberly. “The action we take now to help our black and brown communities who have been disproportionately affected by current laws surrounding cannabis use is critical to trauma for future generations.”

“There have been far too many people, especially those from Black and Hispanic communities, who have been negatively impacted by the criminalization of cannabis,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano. “There have been long-term impacts on the lives of all people in this state, but considerably those of color. This law is the product of taking a hard look at our current laws, listening to the will of the majority of New Jerseyans and taking a common-sense approach to cannabis offenses.”

“Black New Jerseyans are up to four times more likely to be arrested on cannabis charges than White people. It is a sad fact, a further painful reminder that so people in our communities have been disenfranchised for far too long,” said Assemblyman Jamel Holley. “There have always been glaring social justice concerns and obvious inequity in the high number of arrests of minority residents. Now, finally, this is the time for it to stop.”

“It’s time for the change we seek,” said Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. “New Jersey residents are not happy with the status quo and we need to move in a direction of compassion for the communities that have long been targeted by current regulatory criteria. The call for action, for social justice reform, is resounding throughout our nation. And it begins in New Jersey today.”

“Decriminalization and expungement for those who have been disproportionately incarcerated for marijuana offenses is well overdue in New Jersey and many other states throughout this nation,” said Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake. “A criminal marijuana charge has a detrimental effect on an individual’s opportunity to access higher education, obtain gainful employment, receive housing support, and address child custody issues.  Not all communities are impacted equally by marijuana enforcement, measures to reduce the collateral consequences of criminal records are ones of racial, social, and economic justice. This is about social justice for a people who have endured the inequities in the law for generations.”

In July 2019, Governor Murphy signed legislation (“The Jake Honig Compassionate Use Medical Cannabis Act”) to reform New Jersey’s Medicinal Marijuana Program (MMP) and expand patient access to medical marijuana, ensuring this life-changing medical treatment is affordable and accessible for those who need it most.

In December 2019, Governor Murphy signed one of the most progressive expungement reforms in the nation, giving individuals entangled in the criminal justice system the opportunity to fully participate in society. S4154 eliminated fees for expungement applications and additionally created a petition process for “clean slate” expungement for residents, as well as required the State to implement an automated clean slate expungement system. Furthermore, the bill required that low-level marijuana convictions be sealed upon the disposition of a case, preventing those convictions from being used against individuals in the future. 

Governor Murphy Signs Legislation Expanding Access to Angioplasty Procedures

February 22, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Governor Phil Murphy today signed legislation (A1176) which requires the Department of Health to license certain hospitals to provide full-service diagnostic cardiac catheterization, primary angioplasty, and elective angioplasty services. This will expand access to these critical preventative measures and put them within reach of more New Jerseyans.“All New Jerseyans deserve easy access to procedures that can prevent serious illness or death, no matter where they live,” said Governor Murphy. “This law will allow for more hospitals to provide angioplasty services and ensure that those living in lesser populated areas of state are still able to take advantage of these preventative measures.”A1176 addresses a longstanding lack of licensed angioplasty facilities in several counties in the state. Under the legislation, hospitals that are not currently licensed surgery centers will be able to apply to the Department of Health to provide the following:

  • Full-service diagnostic cardiac catheterization services, provided the hospital thereafter performs at least 250 catheterizations per year, with each interventional cardiologist performing at least 50 catheterizations per year.  The hospital must also participate in the DOH’s data collection programs and in national registries to monitor quality, outcomes, and compliance with State regulations;
  • Primary (emergency/acute) angioplasty services, provided the hospital has been licensed to provide full-service adult diagnostic catheterization services under the bill for at least six months; and
  • Elective angioplasty services, provided the hospital is licensed to provide primary angioplasty services under the bill or was licensed to participate in the C-PORT-E clinical trial or the State Elective Angioplasty Demonstration Project, and, thereafter, performs a minimum of 200 elective angioplasty procedures per year, with each interventional cardiologist performing at least 50 elective angioplasty procedures per year.  The hospital must also ensure all prospective elective angioplasty patients undergo careful selection, screening, and risk stratification.

“Heart disease can be a very treatable illness when the right health measures are able to be taken by a patient in consultation with their medical professional,” said Assembly primary sponsors Andrew Zwicker, Roy Freiman, and Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, in a joint statement. “Angioplasty saves lives every day, but far too often they are performed only in emergencies. Elective Angioplasty as a preventive measure can lessen symptoms, improve quality of life, and reduce mortality rates. Ensuring more medical centers are licensed for full-service elective angioplasty and its linked care will increase access to safe and preventative healthcare measures for residents combatting heart disease.”  “Life-saving cardiac procedures have been modernized and made far safer over the last decade, so it is only fair and pragmatic for those seeking these critical surgeries to have every opportunity to access them with the greatest convenience possible,” said Senator Joseph Vitale, chair of the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee.“Right now there are only 29 hospitals in New Jersey licensed to provide elective angioplasty. That may sound like a lot, but the problem is that most of those hospitals are clustered in only 14 counties,” said Senator Vin Gopal. “This law is a way to give more opportunity to more residents who might seek out these services.”“Eleven New Jersey hospitals without on-site cardiac surgery units are now authorized to provide elective angioplasty and continue to do so,” said Senator Paul Sarlo. “This law will expand access to this procedure more widely, to more facilities, so that all those who seek to benefit from such surgeries and procedures are not hampered by logistical obstacles.”

Governor Murphy Announces Increased Capacity Limits for Religious Services and Large Sports and Entertainment Venues, and Spectators for Collegiate Sporting Events

February 22, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Governor Phil Murphy today announced Executive Order No. 225, which increases capacity limits for religious services and large sports and entertainment venues. Additionally, limited spectators will be allowed at collegiate sporting events, mirroring last week’s announcement on youth sporting events.“As our COVID-19 metrics continue to trend in the right direction and as we continue our aggressive vaccination effort, we believe we can safely take this step,” said Governor Murphy. “We have always strived to make accommodations wherever safely possible, be it with religious services, sporting events, entertainment venues, or in other sectors. I am pleased that we are able to increase these limits today and hopeful that the numbers continue to point in the right direction for further reopening steps.”The changes are as follows:

Religious Services Effective immediately 

  • Religious services and celebrations, including wedding ceremonies, funerals, and memorial services that involve a religious service, will be able to operate at 50% capacity of the room in which they are held, with no cap on the number of individuals permitted to attend.  Services were previously limited to 35% of the room, up to 150 individuals.  
  • Individuals attending services will still be required to wear masks and sit six feet apart from those outside of their household group.

Collegiate Sporting Events Effective immediately 

  • Operators of indoor and outdoor collegiate sports practices and competitions may allow up to two parents or guardians per each participating athlete.
  • Even including this limited number of parents and guardians, the total number of individuals at an indoor practice or competition cannot exceed 35% of the capacity of the room, and any outdoor space needs to accommodate all attendees with appropriate room for social distancing.
  • Collegiate athletic conferences retain the discretion to impose stricter protocols regarding spectators, including for events that take place in large venues.

Large Sports and Entertainment Venues Effective Monday, March 1 at 6:00 a.m. 

  • Large sports and entertainment venues with a fixed seating capacity of 5,000 or more will be permitted to host a number of patrons and members of the public equal to 10% of capacity indoors and 15% of capacity outdoors.  
  • Facilities that host such events must ensure that all attendees at the event remain six feet apart from other attendees, except that individuals who purchase or reserve tickets together may be seated together.  Attendees will also be required to wear masks within the facility, except when eating or drinking.  

Copy of Executive Order No. 225

Update: 2nd Alarm Warehouse Fire

Update from South Brunswick Police on Friday Night’s warehouse fire:

SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ (MIDDLESEX)–At 7:05 pm Friday night, South Brunswick Police received a 911 call of a fire at the Sonoco warehouse at 5 Stults Road. All three South Brunswick Companies (Monmouth Junction, Kingston, and Kendall Park) responded, along with Monroe Fire District 3, Jamesburg, Plainsboro, and North Brunswick Fire Co. #2. Over 50 firefighters responded to the 2-alarm fire.

Firefighters from East Brunswick’s Old Bridge and Brookview Fire Companies, Griggstown, and Montgomery Township covered the empty South Brunswick stations.

Monmouth Junction Fire Chief Scott Smith said, “Firefighters encountered frozen hydrants on the property and on Stults Road, and had to use tankers from Cranbury, Jamesburg, Plainsboro, and Monroe to supply water to fight the fire.”

The fire involved the finished cardboard canisters manufactured by the facility, which were stored on plastic pallets and shrink-wrapped, then stacked 3 pallets high. Smith said, “Fortunately the sprinkler system and fire pump contained the fire to several stacks of the palletizing goods. Unfortunately, the fire and water caused several pallets to collapse, making it difficult for firefighters to locate and extinguish the seat of the fire.”

Firefighting crews had to be rotated frequently due to the manpower intensive efforts necessary to reach the seat of the fire, which was approximately 300 feet deep into the warehouse. A heavy smoke condition further complicated efforts, and took several hours to ventilate using large trailer-mounted fans from the Edison and Millstone Valley Fire Departments.

Firefighters remained on scene for several hours. Monmouth Junction First Aid Squad and North Brunswick First Aid and Rescue Squad were on scene but no injuries were reported. The fire is under investigation by the South Brunswick Township Fire Safety Bureau.

Previous MidJersey.News story here: 2nd Alarm Commercial Building Fire In South Brunswick

UPDATE: 46-year-old man killed in multi-alarm Trenton fire

February 21, 2021

See MidJersey.News Breaking News story here: 4 alarm fire reported in Trenton

By: Tyler Eckel

TRENTON (MERCER)– On January 20, 2021 around 1:10 am, Trenton Fire Department responded to the unit block of Elm Street for a reported house fire with entrapment.

Firefighters arrived on the scene of a 2.5 story multi family dwelling with heavy fire showing from the second floor. The “all hands” was transmitted for additional resources and manpower to the scene.

The fire quickly began to spread, damaging several Elm Street homes including the following numerics: 15, 17, 19, 21, and 23. The fire reportedly got up to the fourth alarm before being placed under control.

It is reported that 12 people were displaced by the fire.

Despite heavy fire conditions, firefighters were searching through all the homes in an attempt to rescue the victim trapped. During their search, they located a 46-year-old male, whose name was not released, deceased inside of 19 Elm Street.

“Although the specific cause of the fire is still under investigation, nothing criminal is suspected at this time,” Detective Captain Peter Weremijenko of the Trenton Police Department told MidJersey.News.

Several surrounding fire departments were called into the city, including Hamilton Township Fire Department, Lawrence, Ewing, Bordentown, companies from Pennsylvania, and others.

Trenton also had another house fire the same night

In a second fire, Trenton Fire Department and other mutual aid departments responded to the unit block of Race Street for another house fire that occurred around 5:00 am, which left two people displaced from their home. The fire was placed under control around 5:40 am with no injuries reported.

Well Involved Car Fire In Lawrence Township Extinguished

February 20, 2021

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, NJ (MERCER)–Lawrence Township Fire Departments Stations 23, 22 and Princeton Fire Department Station 60 were dispatched for a car fire at Princeton Pike near Meadow Road, Lawrence Township. The well involved car fire was reported at 9:45 am and was extinguished by Lawrence Township Station 23. There were no reported injures in the fire. Police closed Princeton Pike in both directions between Lewisville Road and Fackler Road during the fire. No further information was available.

4-Alarm Fatal Fire Reported In Trenton

TFD Also Responds To Additional Fire Overnight

February 20, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Around 1:14 am Trenton Fire Department responded to Elm Street for a house fire with entrapment. Upon arrival heavy fire was found on the 2nd floor in a row home. Trenton firefighters removed one victim and was reportedly pronounced dead on scene. The fire went to 4-alarms and involved 4 homes, before being brought under control.


In a second fire, Trenton Fire Department and other surrounding mutual aid departments responded to Race Street for another house fire around 5:00 am.

Several surrounding departments were called into the city including Hamilton Township FD, Ewing, Lawrence, Bordentown, and others.

MidJersey.news has reached out for official information on the two fires and if received the story will be updated and any corrections made at that time.

NJ Public Employment Relations Commission Sides With Hamilton Twp. PBA L-66 And SOA L-66A Over Payroll Issues And Sick Time Buyback

February 20, 2021

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, NJ (MERCER)–The NJ Public Employment Relations Commission sided with the Hamilton Township Police Benevolent Association Local 66 and Superior Officers Association 66A that Hamilton Township violated the New Jersey Employer – Employee Relations Act in an unfair practice. The Commission granted interim relief to the unions for the Township’s unilateral changes to PBA and SOA’s pay issuance date in December 2020 and January 2021, unilateral
changes to PBA and SOA’s bi-weekly base pay paycheck amounts in 2021, and termination of sick leave buyback for 2020, violate sections 5.4a(1), (2), (3), (5) and (7) of the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-1, et seq.

According to the decision, “The Designee determined that PBA and SOA demonstrated the requisite elements for interim relief under Crowe v. DeGioia, 90 N.J. 126, 132-134 (1982), and enjoined and restrained Hamilton from: 1) unilaterally changing the pay issuance date for the pay period of December 14 to 27, 2020, from December 31, 2020 to a pay date of January 1, 2021; 2) unilaterally changing bi-weekly base pay amounts in 2021 to “annual salary” divided by 27, instead of 26; 3) refusing to reinstate sick leave buyback processing for 2020 for all eligible PBA and SOA members; and 4) refusing to rescind any notice to employees that Hamilton would delay or reduce pay in 2020 and 2021, or refusing to process and pay 2020 sick leave buybacks pursuant to the PBA and SOA CNAs.”

The order states, “PBA and SOA’s application for interim relief is granted. Hamilton is enjoined and restrained from:

1) unilaterally changing the pay issuance date for the pay period of December 14 to 27, 2020, from December 31, 2020 to a pay date of January 1, 2021;

2) unilaterally changing bi-weekly base pay amounts in 2021 to “annual salary” divided by 27, instead of 26; 3) refusing to reinstate sick leave buyback processing for 2020 for all eligible PBA and SOA members; and 4) refusing to rescind any notice to employees that Hamilton would delay or reduce pay in 2020 and 2021, or refusing to process and pay 2020 sick leave buybacks pursuant to the PBA and SOA CNAs.

Read the full decision here:


2nd Alarm Commercial Building Fire In South Brunswick

February 19, 2021

From radio reports and on scene reporting, once official information becomes available the story will be updated and any corrections made.

Updated Information from South Brunswick Police here: UPDATE: 2nd Alarm Warehouse Fire

SOUTH BRUNSWICK TOWNSHIP, NJ (MIDDLESEX)–Around 7:00 pm the Monmouth Junction Fire Company was dispatched for a warehouse fire sprinkler activation with a reports of a fire inside the building at 5 Stults Road. The first units on scene reported heavy smoke inside the building and 2nd alarm was called. Mutual aid was called from all South Brunswick Fire Departments along with North Brunswick, Kingston, Plainsboro and Jamesburg.

Firefighters advanced a 2 1/2″ handline inside the building but had issues establishing a water supply because of frozen fire hydrants on the property. Tankers were called from Monroe Township Plainsboro, Hopewell-Titusville (Washington Crossing), Jamesburg, Cranbury and others. Two Large positive pressure ventilation fans were brought from the Edison Township Fire Department and placed in service to help remove smoke. Another large trailered fan was called from Millstone Valley to the scene to help remove smoke. Monmouth Junction First Aid Squad and North Brunswick First Aid and Rescue Squad was also at the scene.

Radio reports indicate that the fire was involving pallets inside the building. The company is Sonoco and the plant manufactures ridged paper consumer products. A sign on the building indicated the business has been operating at least 120 years.

No further information is available at the time of this report once official information is released the story will be updated and corrections and additions made.

Governor Murphy, Acting Commissioner Allen-McMillan Announce “The Road Forward” Initiative to Mitigate Challenges to Students, Educators, and School Districts Caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic

New grant programs will make $1.2 billion available for districts to address student educational and mental health needs

Murphy Administration will also request a statewide assessment waiver from the federal government

February 19, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Governor Phil Murphy and New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) Acting Commissioner Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan today announced “The Road Forward,” a series of coordinated policy initiatives that dramatically expand the Administration’s efforts to identify and address the academic and mental health impacts of COVID-19 on New Jersey students and educators. 

As part of this coordinated initiative, $1.2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief funds will be made available to districts, including grants dedicated specifically to research-based instructional and mental health interventions. Additionally, the Governor and Acting Commissioner announced that the Administration is seeking public comment and will submit a request to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) to waive federal requirements to administer statewide assessments this spring.  

“We know our students and educators have had a difficult year,” said Governor Murphy. “Providing our school communities with increased flexibility and support is essential to move our education system forward. The additional federal funds will allow districts to best meet the individual needs of their students during this challenging time.” 

“Educators and students have endured a great deal over the past eleven months,” Acting Commissioner Allen-McMillan said.  “These additional federal funds will support targeted initiatives to enhance academic enrichment and mental health interventions for all students and educators.”

“With students being removed from the traditional classroom for nearly a year, the trajectory for student academic achievement has certainly been stifled,” said Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, Chair of the Assembly Education Committee. “We’ve yet to fully grasp the level of learning loss and disruption to our children’s social and personal growth, but it is critical that we get out in front of this issue as quickly as possible. We must address the inevitable academic disparities caused by this public health crisis and to do this it will require an investment in learning enrichment programs and increased student mental health support.”

“We are very pleased that Governor Murphy and Acting Commissioner Allen-McMillan are taking a stand for New Jersey’s students and applying for a waiver from federally-mandated standardized testing this spring,” said Marie Blistan, President of the New Jersey Education Association. “A waiver will prevent another disruption that pulls our students away from real learning and will ensure we have more time to focus on meeting their critical immediate needs. We also applaud Gov. Murphy’s commitment to helping New Jersey’s students overcome the social, emotional and academic effects of this pandemic. Investing federal funds to directly support our students’ learning and mental health needs will help them emerge stronger and better prepared deal with the challenges and seize the opportunities that lie ahead.”

“New Jersey is almost done closing its digital divide, and with the Learning Acceleration Grant, now our state can work toward closing its learning gap,” said Donna M. Chiera, President of the American Federation of Teachers New Jersey. “The pandemic has certainly exacerbated emotional disorders, so the Mental Health Grant will go a long way in supporting our students and educators in need. And given that the pandemic has kept New Jersey students from a formal test setting for many months, we fully support requesting a federal waiver to waive statewide assessments. To have a full state assessment program at this time would create even more stress for students and educators, along with financial and logistical burdens for districts to implement the testing. We are hoping that the Biden administration understands and recognizes this and allows New Jersey to waive the assessment.” 

“There is an urgent need to address learning gaps for NJ students that have emerged or been exacerbated by the pandemic,” said Patricia Morgan, Executive Director of JerseyCAN. “The grants announced today will begin to address this need by supporting longstanding solutions including tutoring, after school programs, summer programs, and mental health supports for students and staff.  These initiatives coupled with robust diagnostic assessments and data analysis are critical steps in a statewide education recovery that includes every student in New Jersey.” 

Making Federal Funding Available to Districts 

On March 15, the DOE will release applications for $1.2 billion in federal ESSER II funds (Federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund). The funds will be distributed as follows:

  • As required by legislation, a minimum of 90 percent of New Jersey’s ESSER II funds will be allocated to local education agencies (LEAs) in the same proportion as those funds received under Part A of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended, in school year 2020-2021. 
  • Two grant opportunities will provide a total of $105 million to support districts in providing additional academic and mental health supports.
    • $75 million Learning Acceleration Grant: 75 percent of a district’s allocation will be used to support research-based academic enrichment activities, such as one-on-one intensive tutoring and summer learning academies, and 25 percent will be used for strategies to support the broader learning ecosystem.
    • $30 million Mental Health Grant: Funds will be used to assist districts in implementing school-based mental health supports for all students and educators. These grants will assist school districts in building a tiered, sustainable intervention model of comprehensive mental health supports and services.
  • The DOE will use ESSER II State set-aside funds to provide assistance to non-Title I LEAs, County Special Services School Districts, Education Services Commissions, Jointure Commissions, Division of Children and Families, Department of Corrections, Juvenile Justice Commission, and the Juvenile Detention Centers. 

For additional information, including district allocations, please see the DOE’s February 19, 2021 broadcast memo.

To assist districts in leveraging these federal funds effectively, the DOE has posted to its website a clearinghouse of successful practices that New Jersey school districts have identified as notable achievements in mitigating the challenges posed by COVID-19. These district-reported successes are categorized by county, district size, and topic area to facilitate meaningful collaboration and learning opportunities between similarly-situated districts. 

Requesting a Statewide Assessment Waiver 

The Administration recognizes that amid the severe disruptions caused by COVID-19, statewide assessments will detract from schools’ efforts to focus on students’ social-emotional health, wellness, and individualized academic and behavioral supports. Therefore, the DOE is making available for public comment a request to the USED to waive federal requirements to administer statewide assessments this spring, including the New Jersey Student Learning Assessment, ACCESS for ELLs, and the Dynamic Learning Maps alternate assessment for students with the most significant intellectual disabilities. The waiver request also addresses federal requirements regarding the use of statewide assessments in federal accountability systems. If USED approves this waiver request, the spring 2021 administration of the statewide assessments will be canceled. 

For additional information on this waiver request, please see the DOE’s February 19, 2021 broadcast memo.

Evaluating and Ensuring Student Readiness 

To fill data gaps caused by interrupted statewide assessment administration and to ensure that students are making meaningful growth toward grade-level standards, the DOE will collect data from locally administered assessments that provide a snapshot of student learning during this school year. The DOE will provide additional guidance regarding this data collection later this month. 

In Fall 2021, the DOE will provide all districts with the formative assessment known as Start Strong. Using the lessons learned from the initial administration this past fall, the upcoming and improved Start Strong assessments will better enable districts to collect timely, actionable, standards-based student performance data at the beginning of the school year.  

The DOE will also pilot the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment (KRA) this fall. The KRA is designed to be administered to incoming kindergarteners, measuring school readiness in the domains of social foundations, language and literacy, mathematics, and physical well-being. Administration of the KRA will provide participating districts with data depicting how prepared their students are for kindergarten. The tool will give educators and families the information needed to adjust, improve, and target teaching and related resources to the needs of their students.

BPU Sets March 16 Hearing in Optimum/ Altice Investigation

ROBBINSVILLE-HAMILTON TOWNSHIPS, NJ (MERCER)–In response to a wave of complaints regarding poor service and unfair consumer pricing by Optimum/Altice USA, the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities (BPU) has found sufficient cause to investigate Optimum/Altice USA and convene a public hearing on March 16, 2021.

The BPU said in a February 17 order it had:

“reviewed the various complaints, municipal government official resolutions and requests for Board investigation and intervention in this matter, and HEREBY FINDS that there is sufficient cause to convene a proceeding to afford the municipal officials and Altice customers the opportunity to voice their concerns about the services received from Altice; as well as afford the company the opportunity to respond to these concerns before determining what corrective action may be warranted and should be taken in this matter.”

The Board designated Commissioner Mary-Anna Holden as the Presiding Officer. Holden “is authorized to rule on all motions that arise during the proceedings and modify any schedules that may be set as necessary to secure a just and expeditious determination of the issues.”

The public hearing will be held virtually. Information concerning participation in the public hearing will be posted on the BPU website. Attorneys for the Townships of Robbinsville and Hamilton filed dual letters to Lawanda Gilbert, Director of the BPU Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, requesting an investigation into the under performing utility in August, 2020.

In addition to Hamilton and Robbinsville, the order lists the boroughs of Dunellen and Sayreville, along with the Townships of Green Brook, Howell, Jackson, Montville, North Brunswick and Piscataway. The BPU received complaints and resolutions from at least 10 municipalities and several state legislators concerning various issues their residents and constituents cited alleging inadequacy and lack of service provided by Altice USA. In the complaints, the municipal and legislative officials cited: “Frequent and lengthy service disruptions (across all services), inconsistent connections and fluctuating Internet speeds, long telephone wait times, poor customer service, and an inability to get a satisfactory response to these issues from the company both before and after the COVID-19 pandemic.”


The letters detail just 11 examples from the hundreds of complaints received by the respective municipal offices at Robbinsville and Hamilton over the past several months citing poor customer service, unstable Internet connections, insufficient network capacity and allegations of price-gouging.

“It is the duty of Optimum (Altice USA) as a utility to furnish safe, adequate and proper service for its customers … and they have failed in that duty,” Robbinsville Township Mayor Dave Fried said last summer. “We should not have to continuously pressure this provider to do its job.”

Hamilton Township Mayor Jeff Martin also received a flood of complaints regarding Optimum/Altice USA (formerly Cablevision) and requested the BPU immediately commence an investigation into the services being provided to both Robbinsville and Hamilton pursuant to powers vested in the Board.

“Having reliable cable and internet service has never been more of a necessity than this year has proved it to be,” Martin said. “Both municipalities’ residents have experienced similar, unacceptable issues and a lack of timely remediation from Optimum. Mayor Fried and I will fight for our residents by partnering together on this issue and hope that by doing so it will provide for a stronger likelihood of these concerns being taken seriously by the State. “

Related MidJersey.news stories here:

Mayors Testify At NJ Senate Committee On Law And Public Safety About Utility Company Problems

Hamilton and Robbinsville Request BPU Investigation Into Optimum/Altice

East Windsor Township Sponsors Gun Safety Program With Free Gun Lock Distribution To East Windsor Residents

February 18, 2021

EAST WINDSOR, NJ (MERCER)–Mayor Janice S. Mironov announced that East Windsor Township is sponsoring a Gun Safety Program, through which gun locks will be distributed free of charge to any East Windsor resident. The program commences March 1 and will run through the end of March.

According to Mayor Mironov, “This is a pro-active initiative, geared to promote and provide improved gun safety. These locks if properly used by lawful gun owners can help prevent accidental deaths or injuries in the home, as well as deaths and injuries caused by the intentional misuse of guns.”

Mayor Mironov added, “The use of gun locks is a no-brainer, which keeps guns out of the hands of children and helps prevent unnecessary tragedies. We hope that programs such as this will remind and educate lawful gun owners about their important responsibility to handle firearms safely and to store them in a secure manner.”

Township residents can obtain free safety locks at the Township police/court facility located at 80 One Mile Road, by contacting Detective Brian Gorski at (609) 448-5678, ext. 236

The gun locks are made available to the Township at no cost, through Project ChildSafe. Project ChildSafe is the nation’s largest firearms safety program, and is sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Trenton Man Charged with the May 23, 2020 Murder of Watson Cogdell

February 18, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–Mercer County Prosecutor Angelo J. Onofri announced today that an investigation conducted by the Mercer County Homicide Task Force resulted in a Trenton man being charged this week for the May 23, 2020 murder of Watson Cogdell.

Bobby Vazquez, 41, is charged with one count of first-degree murder, one count of second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and one count of second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon.  He is currently being held in the Mercer County Correction Center on unrelated charges. The prosecutor’s office has filed a motion to detain Vazquez pending trial.   

At approximately 1:40 p.m. on May 23, 2020, Trenton police responded to a Shot Spotter activation for three gunshots in the area of 193 Brunswick Avenue in Trenton.  Trenton patrol officers and emergency medical technicians arrived on scene and located Cogdell suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He was transported to the hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

A crime scene was located in the lot on the side of 217 Brunswick Avenue and MCHTF detectives located four .40 caliber casings and a projectile.

Witnesses were interviewed and area video surveillance footage was reviewed as part of the investigation.  Multiple witnesses were interviewed who observed the suspect shoot Cogdell.  The suspect was described as wearing dark clothing, approaching from Middle Rose Street, shooting the victim, then returning in the direction of Middle Rose Street.  A suspect identified as “Bobby” was seen running into a residence on Sanford Street after the shooting.  Officers located the residence, which was abandoned, and obtained a search warrant.  During a search, a black Taurus .40 caliber handgun, suspected narcotics and drug paraphernalia were located inside.

Despite having been charged, every defendant is presumed innocent until found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Related MidJersey.News stories here:

BREAKING: One Shot Dead; The Carnage Continues As Shootings Ravage City

Developing Story: Trenton Shooting Victim From This Afternoon Identified

Hamilton Township Mourns Loss Of Former Mayor John K. “Jack” Rafferty

Jack was born May 1, 1938 and passed on February 17, 2021 at age 82, he served as Hamilton Township Mayor from 1976 to 1999, he also served NJ General Assembly 14th District from  1986 to 1988 and also ran for NJ Governor in 1981

MidJersey.news has reached out to others in the community to reflect on the loss of Jack. Please check back we will have more to add to this story soon.

February 18, 2021 updated with additional reflections from the community, more to follow.

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, NJ (MERCER)–Yesterday, Hamilton Township, Mercer County, and the State of New Jersey lost one of the greats, John K. Rafferty.  Jack Rafferty, as everyone knew him, was a well-respected man who dedicated 24 years of his life as Hamilton Township’s first full-time Mayor.  Prior to his time as Mayor, Jack served six years on what was then the Hamilton Township Committee (now Council).  Jack’s love of public service did not end there, as he also served one term in the New Jersey General Assembly.

Jack’s tenure as Mayor saw Hamilton Township become one of New Jersey’s largest municipalities.  Under his stewardship Hamilton Township welcomed Hamilton Hospital (now RWJ Hamilton), the Hamilton Train Station, and the development of Veterans Park.  Jack will forever leave his mark on Hamilton Township as Hamilton’s main post office on Route 130 and the YMCA facility on Whitehorse-Mercerville Road each bear his name. 

Jack continued to give back to Hamilton Township after retiring from his position as Mayor – serving as the Executive Director of the Hamilton Partnership and remaining active in the New Jersey Republican Party where he served on the New Jersey Republican State Committee.  A mentor to many and a friend to all, Jack’s legacy will live on through his children and grandchildren as well as all those who had the pleasure of knowing him.

“As Mayor of Hamilton Township and on behalf of our entire community, I wish to express my deepest sympathies and condolences to his wife Doris and the entire Rafferty Family during this very difficult time,” said Mayor Jeff Martin. “I trust his family, friends, and loved ones will find solace in knowing Jack’s many years of dedicated service to our community will live on in Hamilton Township, Mercer County and New Jersey for eternity.”

Former Mayor Kelly Yaede commented, “Hamilton Township lost a truly good man, a dedicated public servant who loved his family and his community.  He led a growing town into a thriving community during his tenure. He was beloved by residents regardless of party affiliation; a true leader who put the needs of residents first. The collective sadness realized today in Hamilton with the passing of Mayor Jack is palpable.” 

In remembering Jack Rafferty, former Mayor John F. Bencivengo stated, “Mayor Jack Rafferty, his name and his life will never be forgotten. We lost our shining star, a friend to all, a great public servant, a family man, and our mayor for more than two generations. Once a mayor, always a mayor. To me, he was my mentor, friend, and a blessing in my life. Hamilton will forever be in his debt. He turned a place into a township, a township into a strong community of families, parks, schools, and thriving businesses – “Safe, Clean and Beautiful.” We shall miss him; I will miss him. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Former Mayor Glen Gilmore expressed his condolences, stating, “Mayor Rafferty’s legacy of leadership will forever loom large over Hamilton.  He always cared about people more than politics – which is what we could use more of now.  He was always a friend to me and I will miss his smile.” 

“Mayor Rafferty left an indelible mark on Hamilton Township.  We can all learn from his example and strive to be more like Jack,” said Mayor Martin.

Norman Smith, Robbinsville resident and co-founder of Project Freedom said, “Jack Rafferty was a friend; he was a friend to me, a friend to Project Freedom, and a friend to the disability community. I was a small part of Jack’s gubernatorial campaign, and this opened doors for me to co-found Project Freedom. When Jack was in the legislature, he secured seed money that enabled our first complex to be planned. Jack established one of the first Mayor’s Office for Disabilities in New Jersey during a time when we had very limited community visibility. He truly was an angel to Project Freedom, and for that reason we gave Jack our first Angel Award.”

U.S. Representative Chris Smith said, “Jack Rafferty was an extraordinary leader—a visionary and doer of great deeds—especially for the people of Hamilton Township.  He was smart, tenacious, selfless and had a sense of humor that always brought a smile to anyone he met. He was kind and caring—and had a great big heart. As the can-do mayor, Jack made Hamilton a great place to live and improved the quality of life for all. All Hamiltonians were his priority I was privileged to work with Jack on many projects including establishing the Hamilton train station and securing Hamilton’s postal identity. Like a great quarterback, he knew how to effectively lead the Rafferty team of dedicated professionals. He and first lady Doris made all of us Hamiltonians proud.

My wife Marie and I considered Jack a good friend who lent his political expertise to many of my campaigns. We mourn Jack’s passing but celebrate a life that has made all the difference in the world. Rest in peace, our friend.”

Robbinsville Mayor Dave Fried said, “Jack Rafferty was not only a giant among men in the political arena, he was a husband, a father, a mentor and a friend. Jack was the mayor I always wanted to be. He was a larger-than-life personality who garnered the respect of his friends, as well as his opponents on each side of the political aisle. I was extremely fortunate that he took me under his wing very early in my career and was always there to lend advice, or a helping hand at any hour of the day or night. My deepest condolences and those of my entire Administration and Township Council go out to his family and many friends. Jack was a true legend, and he will be greatly missed.”   

Former Senator Bill Baroni said, “Today, a big part of the heart and soul of Hamilton – my hometown – is gone.  Perhaps no person since our namesake Alexander Hamilton has done more to make our town what it is today than our Mayor Jack Rafferty.

I have known Mayor Rafferty my whole life.  I remember him in my living room at a meeting of our neighborhood association; he came to our little block parties, our school assemblies, our soccer league openings.  He was there when my Mom died – and he performed the wedding when my Dad married my stepmom.  Everyone in Hamilton knew him – because he knew us.  He made our town the perfect place to grow up.  Today, because we have lost Jack Rafferty, our town is a little less perfect.

It seems we are losing Hamilton’s greatest generation.  Jack Lacy, Jack Zoller, Franny McManimon, Maury Perilli, Paul Kramer, and now our Mayor Jack Rafferty.  All of us in politics follow in their footsteps and can only hope to do a fraction of the works they did.

Mayor Rafferty loved the theatre.  In the hit musical Hamilton – our towns namesake – the last line sang by all the cast is, “Who tells your story?”  Mayor Rafferty, we will tell your story.  A story that takes us to Sayen Gardens and Veterans Park; to a library we never had, parks we could only imagine; a police station that helps keep us safe; and the fact that we can use “Hamilton” on our mail.  There are thousands of stories we will tell – because you made our town.

Jack Rafferty, Rest in Peace.  Or in his beloved Irish, Seán Ó Rabhartaigh, Ar dheis dé go raibh a anam.” — Bill Baroni

Governor Phil Murphy said, “Over 24 years in office, former Hamilton Mayor Jack Rafferty helped transform the town into a thriving and growing community. We send our condolences to his family and to every Hamiltonian whose life he impacted.”

UPDATE: Rider University Email To Students Faculty and Staff About Earlier Stay In Place Order Involving Credible Threat

This is still a developing story keep checking MidJersey.news for further updates:

February 17, 2021

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, NJ (MERCER)– An email from Rider University to students, faculty and staff about the incident MidJersey.news brought to you earlier:

This afternoon we issued a stay in place order to students, faculty and staff after receiving a threat we deemed credible and dangerous to the campus community. 

A former employee of a campus contractor called the University this afternoon and made a direct threat to harm former colleagues on campus. This was the same individual whom we contacted students, faculty and staff about yesterday, believing he potentially posed a risk to our community after he issued a related threat of violence on Feb. 16, one that was not specific to any individual. 

After receiving this more direct threat today, Lawrence Township Police and Trenton Police, working with Public Safety, immediately responded and quickly placed the individual in custody at his place of residence. The swift action of law enforcement led to Rider lifting the stay in place order in less than an hour.

Rider has also issued a Persona Non Grata letter to this individual, which prohibits them from entering or being on University property. Public Safety will continue to have an increased presence on campus.  

Rider’s top priority is to keep our campus community safe. The precautionary and protective measures taken over the past two days were meant to achieve that goal. We’re grateful for the work of law enforcement and Public Safety and the cooperation of our campus community during this incident. 

Please know that if we conclude it is not safe to come to campus or to be moving about campus, we will communicate that to you. The first message we sent last night was based on less specific, but still concerning, information. Our assessment of that information led to our putting our community on notice of a person of concern. Today’s threat was much more directed and imminent, such that we issued a shelter in place order, directing everyone on campus to remain in place until further notice so as not to potentially be in harm’s way.

In an emergency situation, when information is often not available in abundance, we will always err on the side of caution and issue immediate directives via RiderAlert to students, faculty and staff to help ensure their safety. We will make our best assessment in that moment, focusing on immediate safety, and provide additional information as it becomes available.  

Our main way to communicate urgent information during an emergency is through Rider Alert, our electronic notification system for students, faculty and staff. We will almost always utilize text messaging in an emergency, as it is the fastest and most efficient way to disseminate information. If you did not receive a Rider Alert message during this incident, please contact Debbie Stasolla at dstasolla@rider.edu

Thank you again for your cooperation, patience and understanding. We will continue to share relevant new information as it becomes available. 

Earlier MidJersey.News story here: DEVELOPING: Shelter In Place Order At Rider University Has Been Lifted, Sources Say One In Custody, PD Says Criminal Charges Expected

Links to The Rider News a student run news organization:

DEVELOPING: Shelter In Place Order At Rider University Has Been Lifted, Sources Say One In Custody, PD Says Criminal Charges Expected

MidJersey.news update here: UPDATE: Rider University Email To Students Faculty and Staff About Earlier Stay In Place Order Involving Credible Threat

February 17, 2021

LAWRENCE TOWNSHIP, NJ (MERCER)–The Lawrence Township Police Department can confirm that there were shelter in place instructions given to the Rider University community by the school administration on 02 17 2021. The shelter in place order has since been lifted by the school administration and there is no longer any type of threat to the Rider University community. The Lawrence Township Police Department can confirm that both incidents are connected. The investigation is ongoing at this time and criminal charges are expected to be filed, Lawrence Township Police told a MidJersey.news reporter.

The Rider News, a student run news paper, has reported on a potentially dangerous ex-employee of campus contractor involved in this shelter in place order.

MidJersey.news has several sources confirming that one suspect is in custody involved in this incident.

MidJersey.news is expecting a press release from Rider University soon on the situation so please check back as this is a developing story.

Trenton to Launch Electric Vehicle Solution to Improve Transportation Access and Public Health

February 17, 2021

TRENTON, NJ (MERCER)–The City of Trenton, in collaboration with Isles Inc., a nonprofit community development and environmental organization that works to foster self-reliance and healthy, sustainable communities, will soon launch a multi-service electric vehicle program to improve resident mobility and increase access to jobs, healthcare, and new opportunities while addressing public health challenges imposed by greenhouse gases and air pollution.

The program seeks to provide transportation services in three phases:

  • An electric carsharing service that will allow residents to rent vehicles for designated periods.
  • An electric ridesharing service that will hire local drivers, support local businesses and improve residents’ mobility and access to essential resources.
  • An electric shuttle service that will connect residents to jobs and create a network of community organizations to expand social, health, and financial services.

The project includes modifying infrastructure for Trenton and installing charging stations at site locations, identified in partnership with the City of Trenton Planning Board. The installation of these charging stations also received unanimous support by City Council on April 2, 2020.

This ambitious project has been possible due to collaboration with ChargEVC, the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, and Environment New Jersey. These statewide organizations were awarded an opportunity to workshop an e-mobility project with Rocky Mountain Institute. The workshop brought together brainpower from all over the country to help chart a plan to make Trenton’s e-mobility a reality. Today, the project is one step closer thanks to support from the Murphy Administration and the N.J. Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), which recently announced awards of $883,000 to support the project.

According to the Trenton 250 Master Plan, approximately 30 percent of Trenton households are car-free, and 21 percent of residents reported relying on carpooling as a primary mode of transportation for commuting to work. While the program is open to all, its development will prioritize providing reliable and affordable transportation options to low-income residents who may not have access to a personal vehicle.

“We are thrilled to work with Isles on addressing what has historically been one of our community’s greatest challenges,” said Mayor Gusciora. “Many of our residents lack reliable transportation, which prevents them from accepting employment opportunities, getting their children to school on time, or even seeing a healthcare provider. I believe this project will meaningfully address those needs and possibly serve as a model for other cities to follow. I’d like to also thank ChargEVC, the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, Environment New Jersey and the NJDEP for lending critical expertise and funding for the project.”

“I’m so excited to see this program launched here in Trenton; we know from many years of community meetings and engaging residents in various plans that access to transportation is a major challenge for Trentonians,” said Dan Fatton, Chair of the City of Trenton Planning Board. “This program provides one solution to that problem and the City can expand access to clean transportation options, giving people more options to get around without increasing pollution.”

Notably, the program will reduce air pollution in the city, where residents face health challenges at a higher rate than their Mercer county counterparts. “Trenton’s asthma rate is three times the state average, and accounts for 76% of all asthma-related ER visits in Mercer County, despite being only 23% of the population,” says Isles CEO Sean Jackson. “This program is an important step towards making Trenton’s air cleaner while increasing transportation options for Trenton residents. And while this program is local to Trenton, we see this pilot as an opportunity to inform future clean transportation investments that prioritize building equity throughout the state.”

The City of Trenton and Isles will issue RFPs later this month and welcome vendors to apply. While the city will own the charging infrastructure, Isles will spearhead the project’s program development and operations.

To inform the development of this community-driven program, Isles has solicited feedback from residents and community organizations for the past year. “We learned that similar to our experience, many community organizations throughout the city struggle with extending their social, health, and financial services to residents due to lack of affordable and reliable transportation options,” says Katharina Miguel, Clean Energy Advocate who is leading the program at Isles. “Our goal is to close that gap and build wealth and health in the city. We encourage community organizations that believe this would be helpful for their services to reach out to us, and we will also be executing an extensive outreach plan.”

Isles also hosted the program’s first listening session earlier in January and will continue to host sessions within the upcoming months to learn how these services can best benefit Trentonians. Both Katharina Miguel and Peg Hannah from NJDEP will speak about the program at Environment New Jersey’s webinar on Wednesday, February 17 at 2 p.m. ChargeEVC, Environment New Jersey, and the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition will continue to support the development of the project by providing technical assistance, research, and organizing expertise.

When available, RFPs will be posted on the City of Trenton website at https://www.trentonnj.org/230/Division-of-Purchasing and Isles website at https://isles.org/about-us/job-openings/.

Representatives Chris Smith, Tom Suozzi to fight for ‘Sami’s Law’ in new Congress

Bipartisan legislation would improve ride-share safety

February 17, 2021

WASHINGTON, DC — With an eye toward a post-COVID easing of restrictions and a return to economic normalcy, a group of bipartisan lawmakers are determined to establish timely and much-needed safety protections for Americans who will be using rideshare companies to help them get to work, school, appointments or social events.

   Authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) with lead Democrat cosponsor, Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-NY), Sami’s Law will require transportation networking companies (TNCs) like Uber and Lyft to deploy a verifiable digital access system to match drivers with passengers before the ride begins to enhance safety for the ride-hailing public. A companion bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate by Ben Cardin (D-MD) later this month.

   The legislation, HR 1082, is named in honor of Samantha “Sami” Josephson—who was kidnapped and brutally murdered by a predator pretending to be her Uber driver near the University of South Carolina just months prior to her graduation in 2019.

   “We must establish safety protocols and accountability in the system to protect rideshare customers who remain extremely vulnerable,” said Smith, who represents Sami’s hometown of Robbinsville, NJ.  “As the nation looks to emerge from COVID restrictions, there will likely be a surge in travel and general activities, and thus a corresponding urgency to protect those who rely on Uber and Lyft services.”

   Underscoring the dangers, Smith cited Sami’s tragic murder and pointed to a report released by Uber that found over a two-year period, 2017 to 2018, the company received 5,981 allegations of serious sexual assault in the United States, and 19 people were killed in physical assaults during or soon after an Uber ride.  He also cited a 2019 CNN report that revealed that Lyft has been hit with multiple driver rape and sexual assault allegations. 

   “No family should have to endure what the Josephson’s have” Rep. Suozzi said. We can’t stop every family tragedy, but hopefully Sami’s law will establish safety protocols that protect Uber, Lyft and other rideshare customers.”

   Seymour and Marci Josephson, Sami’s parents, created the #WHATSMYNAME Foundation in ‘‘honor of their daughter to educate the world on rideshare safety.” They also came up with the idea for the legislation to help ensure no one else loses their life or is assaulted by a rideshare driver or a predator pretending to be their driver.

   Last year, after painstaking negotiations with Smith, the Josephsons, congressional leaders, and  Uber and Lyft, Sami’s Law unanimously passed the House with the strong support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. The bill garnered the support of key Senate leaders, but time ran out in the Senate before unanimous consent could be achieved.

   “Lives are at stake and people, especially women, who use rideshare services are vulnerable to sexual assault and other crimes,” Smith said. “The Josephsons have made great progress educating rideshare customers about potential dangers, but none of us will rest until the modest and effective Sami’s Law protocols are enacted and the public is better protected.”

   Sami’s Law not only sets safety requirements for today’s technology and a process for successor technology performance standards, it also:

  • establishes a 17-member advisory council that reports to the Secretary of Transportation—SAMI’s Council—comprised of federal agency and public stakeholders to advance safety standards in the rideshare industry;
  • makes it unlawful to sell, or offer for sale, ride-share signage, making it more difficult for imposters like Sami’s murderer to pose as a driver;
  • requires a GAO report on the incidence of assault and abuse of both passengers and drivers;
  • requires that the GAO also examine the nature and specifics of “background” checks conducted by companies and the varying standards set by States regarding background checks.

   Other original cosponsors of the bill include: Reps. James Clyburn (D-SC), the Democratic Whip; Joe Wilson (R-SC); Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ); and Albio Sires (D-NJ).  The new bill is already endorsed by two groups which originally opposed the legislation last Congress.

   “We thank and commend Representative Smith for working closely with us in crafting this legislation, which will provide a fully nonvisual method for blind and deafblind passengers to identify and verify rideshare trips,” said Mark Riccobono, President of the National Federation of the Blind. “Personal safety is a top priority for our movement and we urge the House to swiftly pass this legislation.”

“The National Sheriffs’ Association supports Sami’s Law… all users of ridesharing programs should have a reasonable expectation of safety, which this bill addresses for both passengers and drivers,” said Jonathan F. Thompson, Executive Director and CEO of the National Sheriffs’ Association.

RWJ University Hospital Hamilton Welcomes New Leadership To Foundation Board

February 17, 2021

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP, NJ (MERCER)–Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital (RWJUH) Hamilton, 1 Hamilton Health Place, Hamilton, NJ, is pleased to announce new RWJUH Hamilton Foundation Board leaders and members, who assumed their new roles in January 2021. Yolanda Zaffutti Stinger, formerly the Foundation Board’s Vice Chair, ascended to the position of Chair; Foundation Board member Mary Pucciarelli took on the role of Vice Chair; and the Board welcomed two new members, Ryan Kennedy and Christina Spinelli.

Lifelong Hamilton resident Yolanda Zaffutti Stinger has been a committed member of the RWJUH Hamilton Foundation for over a decade; as Vice Chair, she was a natural fit for the Chair position. In addition to her work with RWJUH Hamilton, Stinger is involved in a variety of other community-oriented organizations.  “Giving back to the community is so important to me,” she says.

In her new role as Vice Chair, Mary Pucciarelli of Brielle, NJ, a decade-long Foundation Board member, enthusiastically continues her dedication to the RWJUH Hamilton Foundation, which supports the programs and patients of the hospital. “I’ve been so proud,” says Pucciarelli of her tenure with the Foundation, “to work with so many people from the Hamilton community.”

New Board members Ryan Kennedy of Hopewell Borough, NJ, and Christina Spinelli of Hamilton, NJ – a former member of the hospital’s Young Professionals Group (YPG) – are enthusiastic about their upcoming efforts on behalf of the Foundation, as well. With the ascensions of Stinger and Pucciarelli to their new positions and the additions Kennedy and Spinelli, the Foundation Board will continue its work to contribute to the evolution of RWJUH Hamilton in order to best serve its community.  Former Foundation Board Chair and Chair-elect of the hospital Board, Nina Melker, says, “I know we have built a strong Foundation Board. These changes will continue to bring us forward and help us grow.”

Workers Making Roof Repairs Set Roofing Materials Ablaze Quickly Extinguished

February 17, 2021

MILLSTONE TOWNSHIP, NJ (MONMOUTH)–Just after 11:00 am Millstone Township Fire Department was dispatched to 532 Route 537-Monmouth Road for a fire on a roof of a commercial building with reported smoke and flames visible. Mutual Aid fire departments from Hope Fire Company-Allentown, Plumstead Township-New Egypt Fire Company, Jackson Township and Monroe Township were dispatched to the scene. Upon arrival firefighters reported light smoke and fire from the roof and were able to quickly knock the fire down bringing it under control within minutes. Initial radio reports are that workers on the roof making repairs caught the roofing materials on fire using a torch. The fire is under investigation by the Millstone Township Fire Marshal’s Office and no additional details are available at this time. Firefighters remained on scene for at least an hour for overhaul and checking for hot spots. Thanks to a quick response and extinguishment by firefighters, the business was expected to reopen shortly with almost no business interruption.

Hamilton Fire Department quickly knocks down Schiller Avenue house fire

February 16, 2021

By: Tyler Eckel

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP (MERCER)– The Hamilton Fire Department responded to 356 Schiller Avenue around 10:25 pm Tuesday night on a reported house fire. Companies arrived on scene with smoke showing from the second floor and called the “all-hands,” sending additional apparatus, manpower, and resources to the scene. Two hose lines were stretched in operation, quickly knocking down the fire. Command placed the fire under control around 10:37 pm. It is unknown if anyone was injured. The cause of the fire is under investigation