Sen. Joseph Pennacchio, who represents Verona in the New Jersey state Senate, popped in to the Verona Town Council meeting on Monday night for one of his periodic visits to town. He made a few brief remarks and then opened the floor to questions from the audience. Perhaps because a proclamation on National Gun Violence Awareness Day was on the agenda, or because of the recent school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, the first two questions asked of the senator were on gun law reform.
“Nobody wants to see guns used in a violent way,” Pennacchio said. “Nobody wants to see anybody harmed, especially our children. I think it’s a misnomer to think that one issue alone, guns, is going to solve it.” Pennacchio said that the impact of violent video games, broken families and psychotropic drugs also had to be examined, and asserted that if it were just an issue of guns, violence would be happening more frequently.
That did not satisfy Christine McGrath, a Verona resident who is one of the leaders of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action, a group advocating for common sense gun reforms. She told Pennacchio that there will be six gun safety bills in front of the Senate in two weeks time and asked him specifically whether he would support the Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) Act, which would allow family members and others to ask a judge to have a person’s guns seized and ban them from buying weapons for up to a year if they were deemed a risk to themselves or others. Pennacchio said he would look at it but quickly added “it is also important that the due process of innocent people is being taken care of. You can’t just charge somebody with potentially making a crime and then confiscate any of their property away.”
Many states have enacted ERPO laws and Seattle-area police used Washington state’s laws to thwart two planned shootings earlier this year. The New Jersey Assembly approved an ERPO law in March; Assemblyman Jay Webber, a gun rights advocate who represents Verona, voted for the measure, while Verona’s other representative, Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce, voted no.
Pennacchio also took a question from the public on a measure that would change New Jersey’s liquor license laws, and was asked to ask Assemblyman Webber to stop blocking his constituents on social media.
When it was the Council’s turn to ask questions, Councilman Alex Roman turned the discussion to taxes and Verona’s ability to manage them. “The single most important tool for us is, I fear, going away, the 2% interest arbitration cap,” Roman said. The cap was created to keep collective bargaining over salary increases for police and firefighter in synch with the cap imposed on town spending, butNew Jersey legislators allowed it to expire last December 31. If it is not reinstated, towns may have to cut services to afford those services. (Verona has a paid police department, but our fire department is staffed by volunteers.) Pennacchio responded but never answered the question, even though Roman pressed twice for an answer.
Pennacchio did, however, in his response, raise the prospect that the state could assume some or all of Verona’s special education costs. Earlier this month, the Verona Board of Education had to cut two teaching positions and a tech facilitator, and reduce several full-time foreign language positions to part-time for the 2018-2019 school year, largely as a result of unexpected special education costs. But while Pennacchio’s remarks made it seem that help from Trenton on special education is imminent, that is not likely to be the case: Pennacchio was part of the New Jersey’s Senate select committee on school funding fairness, no legislation has yet been introduced in the state legislature. A spokesman for Sen. Stephen M. Sweeney (D-NJ3), who chaired the committee, said such an effort would be a multi-year plan but would not provide immediate relief. He did indicate, however, that there could be some reallocation of state aid in this year’s budget that could help; Verona schools currently get 42.5% of the state aid that they should get.
You can listen to all the questions for Sen. Pennacchio at the start of the video below.