Cannabis legalization and the COVID-19 pandemic were among the most heavily lobbied topics in New Jersey politics last year, according to a report issued Aug. 18 by the state’s election watchdog group.
In its report, the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission added up the number of “contacts” made between lawmakers and special interest groups. Those can range from sit-down meetings with elected officials to mass emails. Of the 16,415 such contacts, the largest percentage – 12%, or 2,033 of them – were related to COVID-19.
The New Jersey Business & Industry Association lobbied the most heavily on any COVID-related bills. Following them was the New Jersey Education Association teachers union, and the New Jersey Hospital Association, which represents the state’s 71 acute-care hospitals.
“While there is no exact way to gauge the impact of the virus outbreak on lobbying, reports filed with ELEC suggest the pandemic has been a major focus during the latest legislative session,” reads a statement from Jeff Brindle, the NJELEC executive director.
The most lobbied bills were the $32.7 billion short-term budget extension passed in September 2020, and the record-high $46.4 billion budget approved this June, with 483 and 273 contacts respectively.
“All budgets contain thousands of other programs as well that affect the lives of virtually every New Jersey resident. It is therefore not a surprise that budgets usually draw the most intense lobbying,” Brindle said.
“What makes the current session unusual is that billions of dollars in the two adopted budgets was targeted at the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
A bill that was introduced last year to expand abortion access followed in third place with 223 contacts. Following that was a bill that expands telehealth and telemedicine with 160 contacts, and a bill that expands eligibility for worker’s compensation and other benefits for essential workers who contracted COVID-19. That got 154 contacts.
“It has really been important for us to be out there in front on anything COVID-related because of the obvious impacts on the business community, which is why we’ve done a lot of coalition-building on a lot of issues over the past year-and-a half,” reads a statement from Michele Siekerka, who heads the NJBIA.
“Even legislation that isn’t directly COVID-related can have a consequence in a COVID environment – so it’s important that we maintain this focus,” she said.
The successful legalization of marijuana saw 141 contacts made last year – though Gov. Phil Murphy ultimately did not formally sign the bill until this year.
A proposed Wall Street tax followed, with 141 contacts made, most of them by the “Coalition to Prevent the Taxation of Retirement Savings.” The bill was ultimately killed, after seeing broad opposition from major Wall Street establishments such as the New York Stock Exchange.