New NJ law limits police presence at polls

NEW JERSEY – Governor Phil Murphy signed into law a bill that took more than a year to make its way through the Legislature and prohibits police officers from standing within 100 feet of a polling place unless they don’t vote.

The bill, which has been subject to several revisions, could impose penalties on officers for violating its key provision: no police officer – in uniform or in civilian clothes, even if off duty – cannot be within 100 feet of a polling place or ballot box unless called. there in case of emergency.

Police officers are allowed to vote near polling places or if they live within 100 feet of the polling place or if they are assisting someone who needs an escort to and from polling places .

Senate Bill S3595 and its companion, Assembly Bill A4655, passed through the Legislature before landing on Murphy’s desk for signature on Tuesday.

Critics argued that the legislation portrayed police officers in a negative light and drove a wedge between police and community members.

But the New Jersey Senate passed his bill by a vote of 21 to 16. The Assembly approved his bill by a vote of 44-29-1.

Patch contacted the bill’s co-sponsor, MP Mila Jasey (Township of D-Chatham) for comment.

Assembly members clash over bill

During a stormy Assembly session in March 2021, one of the bill’s main sponsors, MP Verlina Reynolds-Jackson (D-Trenton), engaged in intense dialogue with MP Hal Wirths (R -Sparta). Reynolds-Jackson said the bill seeks to “prevent law enforcement from sitting in polling places for 16 hours a day.”

She called “the direct intimidation of voters” when members of law enforcement sit in a polling station “in uniform, with a gun, with a battalion and pepper spray.”

Wirths countered that the bill “rather makes a law enforcement officer a criminal, he or she simply because they are within 100 feet of a polling place.”

“The presumption is that he or she is a criminal and doing something wrong,” Wirths said (see video clip below).

Reynolds-Jackson told Wirths that the authors of the bill worked with law enforcement and “designed [it] to address many of the issues you raise today, and it’s a very good piece of legislation. »

“He says law enforcement should be used proactively, not just sit in these places for long periods of time,” she said.

Widen the gap between the public and the police?

Wirths called it a “bad bill” that assumes the police are “doing something wrong,” he told Patch in a phone interview.

He echoed concerns expressed by State Senator Christopher Connors, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf and Congresswoman DiAnne Gove — all Republicans who represent District 9, which includes Berkeley Township — in a statement from press after the bill passed in March 2021. They called it “a cheap shot”. to police officers and if passed would further erode confidence in the state’s electoral process. »

MP Aura Dunn (R-Chester), who also spoke to Patch in a phone interview, said she remembered a sense of security when she first went to the polls there years ago when she lived in an urban area.

Dunn said it could “widen the gap between the public and the police”, which should instead be bridged. “At the heart of it, we thank our first responders for their service, and it’s contrary to that,” Dunn said.

“They are our neighbours,” she said. The new law could create factions and alienate people further from the police, she added.

Dunn previously crafted a resolution at one point raising awareness of water bottles being thrown at police officers in some cities and calling for respect from law enforcement, she said.

In separate interviews, Wirths and Dunn highlighted what they saw as a disconnect between New Jersey lawmakers and voters. Members of the New Jersey State Police protect statehouse lawmakers while they vote, they stressed. Wirths and Dunn complimented the state police; Dunn called them “the best”.

Wirths wondered if the soldiers who now protect them when doing business in the state house would be considered lawbreakers. Murphy — and former Gov. Chris Christie — had an entourage of state troopers with them at the polls when they voted themselves, he added.

Questions or comments about this story? Do you have a topical tip? Contact me at: [email protected]

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