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No yawning among lobbyists when lame ducks come to Trenton

Richard Mroz remembers the late fall of 1999 well. He was serving as chief counsel in the governor’s office at the time, and in less than five weeks, he watched 216 bills successfully make their way through the Legislature.

It could happen again this year.

“Expect the unexpected in the lame-duck sessions,” said Mroz, an attorney with Archer & Greiner who has his own lobbying firm, Richard S. Mroz Consulting. “Legislators, the administration, business, constituents and lobbyists are all very busy presenting their case. It’s an interesting time.”

In New Jersey, the lame-duck session rears its head every two years, after elections have altered the complexion of one or both houses and the legislative session ends. Lobbyists say lame duck is a whirlwind, but the level of chaos depends on multiple factors.

There are the results of the November election to consider and the mood of the leadership, as well as whether outgoing officials are interested in pushing bills forward as part of their legacies.

“It’s like being an accountant in April,” said Carol Katz, principal of Katz Government Affairs. “If there are bills that have been dormant and you don’t like them, you have to be ever vigilant in case they crop up.”

The same goes for bills their clients support, which could be subject to last-minute amendments and tweaked wording that could have significant unforeseen consequences for the businesses and organizations lobbyists represent, she added.

That’s why lobbyists spend the months leading up to lame duck preparing.

Michael Turner, a lobbyist with Burton Trent Public Affairs, in Trenton, uses this time to make sure he has all his co-sponsors lined up and that he’s counted the votes for bills he’ll be watching during the lame-duck period. Things move fast during that time, and Turner said doing the work now means he can react just as quickly when the time comes.

Many lobbyists are reluctant to talk about what they’re eyeing for lame duck. But Turner said one of his big issues will be alimony reform. There are two bills before lawmakers to abolish permanent alimony and create a system allowing people to seek payment adjustments once they reach retirement age. It will also make it so that those who have suffered abuse during a marriage won’t have to pay alimony to their abusers, said Turner, who represents a group called New Jersey Alimony Reform.

Turner is cautiously optimistic about the bills’ prospects during lame duck, but as of mid-September, the Assembly version of the bill had amassed at least 10 co-sponsors.