Glouco lawmakers take a stand on eminent domain: Cherry Hill NJ Courier-Post, 3/16/07

By Gregory J Volpe

Eminent domain reform remained stalled Thursday in the [New Jersey] Senate, as the apparent standoff between an Essex County senator and Gloucester County lawmakers seemingly widened.

On paper it seemed there was compromise, as the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee listed a merged substitute of two pieces of legislation - one sponsored by committee chairman Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Newark, and another sponsored by Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-West Deptford, and Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Paulsboro.

But the Gloucester County legislators, committee members and Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen criticized the last-minute merger offered by Rice.

Lawmakers said Rice made substantial changes to the legislation without notifying them until late Wednesday afternoon.

"I got 63 pages of amendments yesterday, and it was after 5 o'clock," committee member Sen. Fred H. Madden, D-Washington Township, said.

Sweeney, who is not on the committee, said Rice's approach was symbolic of how many issues in Trenton are rushed at the last minute without giving lawmakers time to review what they have to vote on.

"That's what's wrong with Trenton," Sweeney said. "Major issues get bastardized."

Those proposing reform, who have said they prefer the Sweeney/Burzichelli bill, A-3257, which passed the Assembly last June, said Rice's amendments were troubling.

"It made the Burzichelli bill extremely worse," said Jeff Tittel, director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter.

Rice planned to hold a vote but did not post his bill after it was clear Madden and Sen. Nicholas Asselta, R-Vineland, would not vote on it without time to study the amendments.

After the hearing, Rice acknowledged that lawmakers' gripes about needing more time were valid, then added, "But it's not the first time it's happened here."

Rice also dismissed criticism from Ronald Chen, the public advocate, who has criticized both measures.

"The Public Advocate is like the (American Civil Liberties Union) of government," Rice said. "He has to have high standards."

Cherry Hill NJ Courier-Post: http://www.courierpostonline.com