N.J. Lawmakers Weigh Vaccines, Pot, Taxes, Non-Citizen Licenses

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(Bloomberg) -- New Jersey lawmakers packed one of the final days of the lame-duck session with bills to put marijuana legalization on the ballot, let some school districts exceed a property-tax cap, give driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and remove the religion exemption for vaccinations.

Both houses of the Democratic-controlled legislature scheduled voting sessions for Monday afternoon. Hours before they met, lobbyists and special-interest groups packed the Trenton statehouse to press their cases.

The pot bill was the legislature’s workaround to an almost two-year standoff among members who couldn’t agree on legalizing. If lawmakers pass it, voters will be asked in November for approval to amend the state constitution to allow non-medical use by adults age 21 or older. A majority of New Jersey voters have supported legalization in polls, and turnout in 2020 will be heavy as the ballot includes the U.S. presidential race.

The state’s highest-ranking lawmaker, Senate President Steve Sweeney, a Democrat, is co-sponsoring legislation to lift the 2% annual tax cap for municipalities with the toughest-hit schools so they won’t have to cut staff and make other sacrifices. It has support from Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, a fellow Democrat, and it is co-sponsored by a Republican, Senator Sam Thompson.

The 2% annual increase limit, enacted in 2010, has stemmed the rapid growth of New Jersey property taxes, which are highest among U.S. states. Local schools are a primary driver of the levies.

The driver’s license bill has backing from Democratic Governor Phil Murphy. Supporters, mostly Democrats, say undocumented immigrants already are driving, and licensing them will ensure that they pass driving tests, making roads safer. Republican opponents say it could lead to abuses of a system that links licensing to voter registration.

The vaccination bill is opposed by parents who cite beliefs about religion, personal freedom and health. The law would require immunizations for children to enroll in public school. Last year 2.6% of New Jersey’s school population had religious exemptions, according to state data.

New legislative members will be sworn in on Jan. 14.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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