ASSEMBLY, No. 3690

STATE OF NEW JERSEY

215th LEGISLATURE

 

INTRODUCED JANUARY 14, 2013

 


 

Sponsored by:

Assemblyman  JOSEPH CRYAN

District 20 (Union)

Assemblyman  ALBERT COUTINHO

District 29 (Essex)

Assemblyman  REED GUSCIORA

District 15 (Hunterdon and Mercer)

Assemblywoman  CLEOPATRA G. TUCKER

District 28 (Essex)

Assemblyman  CHARLES MAINOR

District 31 (Hudson)

Assemblywoman  ANNETTE QUIJANO

District 20 (Union)

Assemblywoman  SHAVONDA E. SUMTER

District 35 (Bergen and Passaic)

 

Co-Sponsored by:

Assemblywoman Stender, Assemblymen S.Connors and Johnson

 

 

 

 

SYNOPSIS

     Declares violence a public health crisis, recommends expansion of mental health programs, recommends federal adoption of gun control measures, and establishes “Study Commission on Violence.”

 

CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT

     As introduced.

  


An Act declaring violence a public health crisis, recommending the expansion of mental health programs, recommending federal adoption of gun control measures, and establishing the “Study Commission on Violence.”

 

     Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:

 

     1.    The Legislature finds and declares that:

     a.     On December 14, 2012, a heavily armed man, dressed in black fatigues and a military vest, walked into a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school and opened fire, horrifically killing 26 people before killing himself.  Twenty of the victims were young children, who were six and seven years old;

     b.    On August 31, 2012 at a Pathmark in Old Bridge, New Jersey an employee armed with an assault rifle and automatic pistol entered the store and killed two workers before taking his own life;

     c.     In July 2012, at a crowded midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, a man wearing body armor and a gas mask entered the theater armed with an assault rifle, shotgun, and .40-calibar handgun and opened fire into the crowd.  Twelve people were killed and 59 others were wounded as a result.  The youngest victim was six years old;

     d.    On January 8, 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others were shot during a public meeting held in a supermarket parking lot.  Six of those people were killed;

     e.     On November 5, 2009 there was an attack at Fort Hood, Texas where an Army psychiatrist was charged with killing 13 soldiers and civilians and wounding more than two dozen others;

     f.     In Colorado, the movie theater shooting described above was the deadliest shooting since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999, when two students opened fire in the Denver suburb of Littleton, killing 12 classmates and a teacher and wounding 26 others before killing themselves;

     g.     Assault weapons were used in the Tuscon, Arizona shooting, the Fort Hood shooting, and the Columbine High School shooting described above;

     h.     The above examples represent a fraction of the violence that occurs nationally and in this State every year.  According to the most recent data available, in this State alone, there are 372 murders per year, meaning there is one murder every 23 hours and 33 minutes in New Jersey;

     i.      Nationwide, there have been more than 70 mass shootings since the January 8, 2011 shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords described above;

     j.     The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recognized violence as a serious public health problem in the United States and has reported homicide as the second leading cause of death among persons 15 to 24 years old.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that in addition to the many violent deaths that occur in this country each year, there are many more individuals who survive violence and are left with permanent physical and emotional scars and that this violence erodes communities by reducing productivity, decreasing property values, and disrupting social services;

     k.    In this State alone, there are 74,244 domestic violence offenses reported by the police each year, with children being involved or present during 31 percent of these offenses, according to the most recent data available;

     l.      Nationwide, the equivalent of 10,000 busloads of children end up in emergency rooms for violence-related injuries every year and more than 5,500 children are murdered every year;

     m.    A study conducted by the World Health Organization stated that communities with high numbers of violent children also have higher health care costs, reduced productivity, and decreased property values;

     n.     A 2001 Surgeon General report found that programs that focused on classroom attendance, academic progress, and school behavior helped reduce violence among children;

     o.    Although New Jersey has strict gun control laws, these laws are easily circumvented because of the lack of similar federal laws.  In order to provide more safety for New Jersey residents, the federal government must reinstate its ban on assault weapons which expired on September 13, 1994 and must expand background check requirements for gun purchases to include all sales and transfers;

     p.    The Union County Prosecutor’s Office created a Special Offenders Unit to address the marked increase in criminal prosecutions against individuals with mental illness.  The unit partners with a hospital and rehabilitation services to operate the Jail Diversion Pilot Program to attempt to divert mentally ill criminal defendants from traditional prosecution, where the underlying offense is related to the defendant’s mental illness.  It is necessary for all counties in this State to implement a similar unit to address mental illness in criminal defendants;

     q.    One of the most effective means of curtailing violence is provided by the community based mental health system through involuntary outpatient commitments under a court order supervised by a case manager.  This program must be adequately funded in all 21 counties; and

     r.     Based upon the foregoing findings regarding these recent horrific incidents illustrating the alarming prevalence of violence and the detrimental effects that unrelenting violence has for the good citizens of this nation and State, the Legislature declares violence to be a grave public health crisis.  The Legislature finds that it is, therefore, in the public interest for the State to establish a commission to study the trends of violence, the source of violence, and the impact of violence on the community in order to help raise awareness about one of this country’s most significant public health crises, to develop a method to address the epidemic of violence, and to make recommendations for Congressional and State action.

 

     2.    a.  There is established a Study Commission on Violence to study violence, develop a method to address the epidemic of violence at the federal and State levels, and to make recommendations for Congressional and State action.

     b.    The commission shall consist of nine members.  To the greatest extent practical, the public members shall have a background or education in mental health or criminology.  One member of the commission shall be the Attorney General or a designee, who shall serve ex-officio.  One member of the commission shall be the Commissioner of Health or a designee, who shall serve ex-officio.  One public member of the commission shall be appointed by the Governor.  Three public members of the commission, not more than two of whom shall be of the same political party, shall be appointed by the President of the Senate.  One member appointed by the Senate President shall be recommended by the National United Youth Council INC.  Three public members of the commission, not more than two of whom shall be of the same political party, shall be appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly.  One member appointed by the Assembly Speaker shall be recommended by and be a member of the County Prosecutor’s Association of New Jersey.

     Vacancies in the membership of the commission shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointments were made.

     c.     The members of the commission shall be appointed within 30 days of the effective date and shall hold their initial organizational meeting as soon as practicable, but no later than 30 days following the appointment of the commission’s members.  The members shall select a chairperson from among the members.  The chairperson shall appoint a secretary who need not be a member of the commission.

     d.    Members of the commission shall serve without compensation, but shall be reimbursed for necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties as members of the commission, within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the commission for its purpose.

     e.     The Department of Law and Public Safety shall provide support staff to the commission, as necessary.

     f.     The commission shall further be entitled to call to its assistance and avail itself of the services of the employees of any State, county or municipal department, board, bureau, commission, or agency as it may require and as may be available to it for its purposes. 


     3.    a.  It shall be the duty of the commission to study the trends of violence, the source of violence, and the impact of violence on the community, to develop a method to address the epidemic of violence at the federal and State levels, and to make recommendations for State and Congressional action.

     b.    The commission shall seek out funding and grants for the implementation of programs to reduce violence from sources including, but not limited to, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and any other funding sources.

 

     4.    a.  The commission shall conduct public hearings in furtherance of its general purposes at such place or places as it shall designate, at which it may request the appearance of officials of any federal, State or interstate department, board, bureau, commission, agency, or authority and solicit the testimony of interested groups and the general public.

     b.    The commission shall issue a final report to the Governor and to the Legislature pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1), containing its findings and recommendations, including any recommendations for legislation and recommendations for Congressional action that it deems appropriate, no later than the first day of the seventh month following its organization. 

 

     5.    This act shall take effect immediately and shall expire upon submission of the commission’s final report to the Legislature.

 

 

STATEMENT

 

     This bill declares violence a public health crisis, recommends the expansion of mental health programs, recommends federal adoption of gun control measures, and establishes a Study Commission on Violence to study the trends of violence, the source of violence, and the impact of violence on the community, to develop a method to address the epidemic of violence at the federal and State levels, and to make recommendations for Congressional and State action.

     In addition, the commission would seek out funding from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and any other funding sources to implement programs to reduce violence. 

     The study commission would consist of nine members.  To the greatest extent practical, the public members must have a background or education in mental health or criminology.  One member would be the Attorney General or a designee, who would serve ex-officio.  One member would be the Commissioner of Health or a designee, who would serve ex-officio.  One public member would be appointed by the Governor.  Three public members would be appointed by the President of the Senate, with one member being recommended by the National United Youth Council INC.  Three public members would be appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, with one member being recommended by and a member of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey.

     Under this bill, the commission is required to hold public hearings and to submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature no later than seven months after the organization of the commission with its findings, including any recommendations for legislation and recommendations for Congressional and State action. 

     On December 14, 2012, a heavily armed man walked into a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school and open-fired.  Twenty people were killed, including 20 young children who were ages six and seven. 

     In New Jersey, on August 31, 2012 at a Pathmark in Old Bridge, an employee armed with an assault rifle and automatic pistol entered the store and killed two workers before taking his own life. 

     In July 2012, at a crowded midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, a man entered the theater, and opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding 59 others. 

     The above examples represent a fraction of the violence that occurs nationally and in this State.  According to the most recent data available, in New Jersey alone, there are 372 murders per year and 74,244 domestic violence offenses reported by the police per year.  Nationwide, since the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in 2011, there have been more than 70 additional mass shootings.

     The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recognized violence as a serious public health problem in the United States and has found that violence erodes communities by reducing productivity, decreasing property values, and disrupting social services.  In addition, a World Health Organization study found that communities with high numbers of violent children have higher health care costs, reduced productivity, and decreased property values.

     Based upon findings regarding the recent horrific incidents that illustrate the alarming prevalence of violence and the detrimental effects that violence has for the nation and State, violence is declared a serious public health crisis.  Therefore, it is in the public interest for the State to establish a commission to study violence in order to help raise awareness about one of this country’s most significant public health crises, to develop a method to address this epidemic at the federal and State level, and to make recommendations for Congressional and State action.