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NJ Sex Education Transparency Bill Advances – But Would It Do Much?

May 19, 2022


TRENTON – Legislation that seeks to improve transparency about schools’ health and sex education curriculum advanced through an Assembly committee Thursday, despite criticism that it wouldn’t actually change much.

Sex education classes have become controversial in recent months, as schools prepare to meet new standards that take effect next school year. Activists are demanding their repeal and don’t support the proposed bill, A3968, because they see it as a half-measure at best.

“Parents don’t need a bill for transparency. We need a bill that protects children and parental rights,” said Lorraine Regan of Montclair. “We want a bill that removes the radical new sex-ed standards. We have a constitutional right to direct our children’s education. There is nothing more sacred than a child’s innocence, and it should be protected.”

The Assembly Education Committee meeting was a bit less heated than one last week in the Senate but still had moments of crosstalk and raised voices.

Assemblywoman Pam Lampitt, D-Camden, repeatedly asked people who were testifying to address the bill, not the standards adopted by the State Board of Education they find objectionable. Lampitt cut off Regan’s microphone because she kept discussing the standards; Regan called that un-American.

The bill makes reference to materials that must be published online if they’re used to meet the state’s health and sex education standards. It would apply to any such standards – whether adopted in 2020 or 2012 – but the bill’s critics say the bill is essentially writing what they oppose into law.

“This is the point. The learning standards codify this type of material,” said Victoria Jakelsky, state director of a group called Team PYC, short for Protect Your Children. “This is absolute pornographic. It’s absolutely inappropriate.”

Education groups that regularly lobby in Trenton support the bill.

Jennie Lamon, assistant director of government relations for the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, said it calls for things that have been practiced in the schools for a long time, such as being available to discuss issues and allowing parents to opt kids out of lessons.

“It’s been our experience that most districts from what we’ve heard are already posting this curriculum on their websites,” Lamon said.

Assemblywoman Vicky Flynn, R-Monmouth, said that’s true and required by the state’s school district monitoring system. She called the bill “window dressing” and said the solution is to scrap the standards, not push off the controversy to school boards.

“You have all been told that this bill will help address an issue that I know we’re all getting a lot of calls on,” Flynn said. “I’m here to tell you it’s not going to address it.”

Shawn Hyland, executive director of the Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey, said some parents experience unfair obstacles when trying to review curriculum and lessons, as guaranteed by federal law.

“Parents often have to make a request in writing, meet with school administrators or fill out public records requests to access these rights, or exercise these rights,” Hyland said. “This puts an undue burden on parents, making access to these records extremely difficult.”

Democrats say that’s what the bill seeks to address by having materials posted online. Asked if an ombudsman might be able to help when parents hit a roadblock, critics of the bill insisted the solution should be to eliminate the new standards.

George Corwell, director of the education office at the New Jersey Catholic Conference, said his group has run into issues helping parents monitor their districts’ sex education textbooks and materials.

“Many of the courses are taught by nurses, and they are not using textbooks but their own notes. And they refuse to deal (with) the categories of what’s being taught in the nurses’ notes,” Corwell said.

Among the other suggestions from the hearing: Make health classes an elective. Establish a set period in which districts must hold hearings on their curriculum, so there’s enough time to make changes. Create a common form for filing complaints about the curriculum and make sure it’s bilingual. And teach sex education in the last week of the school year, so parents who object can pull their kids out of school and start their summer break early.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

2 New Jersey Assembly members start baby formula donation drive amid shortage

May 17, 2022

News12 New Jersey

By: News 12 Staff

State Assembly members Vicky Flynn and Gerry Scharfenberger are trying to help New Jersey families impacted by the nationwide baby formula shortage.

They are collecting formula donations at their office located on the third floor of 1715 Route 35 in Middletown.

“Finding people out there in District 13 who have formula in their cupboards in their kitchen, and they’re giving it to us to find a home,” Flynn says.

Flynn is a mother of three teenage girls. All were raised on formula.

“When you were done with the formula, you wouldn’t use it anymore – but you would find someone else to use it because it is so expensive,” Flynn says.

Flynn and Scharfenberger have both been getting calls asking for help as parents experience trouble finding baby formula.

Scharfenberger is a grandfather and says he has also been impacted by the shortage.

“We’ve gone all over the state and each one in the family – my wife, me, my daughter and son-in-law are all on the lookout for formula,” Scharfenberger says.

There is movement nationally to get empty store shelves restocked. The Abbott plant in Michigan will reopen within two weeks. Production on three of their most popular brands – Similac, Alimentum and Elecare – stopped following a recall and plant closure forced by the Food and Drug Administration.

Abbott CEO Robert Ford said in a statement, “We look forward to working with the FDA to quickly and safely reopen the facility.”

The FDA says that four children became sick due to a bacterial infection from ingesting formula from the plant. Two children died.

It could be six to eight weeks before the formula made at the Abbott facility is seen on store shelves. The White House has asked companies to start producing more. Gerber is increasing production by 50%, and Ricketts is boosting production by 30%.

Flynn says their boxes of donations are emptying pretty quickly, which means the effort to help families in need is working.

“As soon as we get in, we find someone to whom to give it to,” she says.

The two Assembly members say they are concerned some parents may fall victim to price gouging. They’ve recently reached out to the state attorney general to act.

Flynn & Scharfenberger: Releasing NJ Cop Killer is a Disgrace & Insult to Law Enforcement

May 10, 2022


Middletown, N.J. – Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn and Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger (NJLD13) empathically denounce the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision ordering the parole of convicted cop killer Sundiata Acoli who is notoriously known for his role in the 1973 murder of NJ State Trooper Werner Foerster:

“We all must stand with law enforcement today due to the unfortunate decision issued by the NJ Supreme Court to overrule the parole board and subsequently authorize the release of a cop killer. This is so unbelievable and tragic, especially as law enforcement kicked off its Unity Tour,” Assemblywoman Flynn stated. “A simple reading of the decision demonstrated that it is a results-oriented decision since there is no legal basis to let this killer go free, especially since he has not expressed remorse after all these years for the death of one of our state’s police officers. The Foerster family is my thoughts and prayers today and always.”

“This decision is an absolute disgrace and is a slap in the face to every law enforcement officer in New Jersey. It is unfathomable how some members of the Supreme Court of New Jersey, the highest court in the state, can make a callous ruling – there is no excuse whatsoever for this murderer to be given a chance at parole,” said Assemblyman Scharfenberger. “Adding more insult to this ruling is hearing that one of the reasons for the parole was because of Acoli’s “verbal renunciation of violence’ – this is ludicrous, you shouldn’t get a pass for murdering a State Trooper because you suddenly proclaim to be a pacifist – it’s outrageous!”

The New Jersey Supreme Court’s 3-2 decision officially overturned the NJ Parole Board’s denial of Acoli’s parole request just days after May 2nd, which marks 49 years since Trooper Foerster was murdered in the line of duty. It is also important to note that Acoli’s accomplice Joanne Chesimard is still wanted by the FBI for her role in the death of Trooper Foerster, but has evaded capture by hiding in Cuba:

“I agree with the dissenting opinion issued by Justice Lee Solomon in which he said it is not the role of the Court to second-guess the Parole Board’s decision. There is no justification for this, it is completely illogical and just signals even more to criminals that New Jersey is soft on crime,” Flynn concluded.

“In a time when law enforcement officers are being attacked from every angle, the last place you’d expect this to be coming from is the Supreme Court. It is an institution which is supposed to be the standard-bearer of our justice system but has instead made the choice to dishonor the memory and sacrifice of a fallen officer as well as all who are and have served,” commented Scharfenberger.

Flynn & Scharfenberger Want Answers to Rising Crime

April 27, 2022


Middletown, N.J. – With evidence mounting showing a direct correlation between New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s policies of early release and easy treatment of convicted criminals and the sharp rise in of criminal activity across Monmouth County – Assemblymembers Victoria Flynn and Gerry Scharfenberger (LD13-R’s) have requested answers from the N.J. Attorney General’s Office as to what his office intends to do to stem the rising tide of crime:

“Over the past few months, there has been a steady increase of car thefts and home burglaries throughout Monmouth County. Constituents reach out to us on a daily basis asking for help. They know there have been changes to law enforcement protocols that prevent law enforcement from addressing these issues and they want their legislators to take action,” Assemblywoman Flynn stated. “It’s clear that the Governor’s administration has implemented policies that handcuff law enforcement while showing preferential treatment to convicted criminals – the public is fed up with jeopardizing the safety of our communities to implement liberal, failed policies.” 

“The recent surge in crime, in particular auto thefts is being fueled and exacerbated by two main factors, the Attorney General’s overly restrictive rules on police response to crime, and bail reform which allows prisoners out onto the street almost immediately. Bail reform is allowing dangerous criminals back out onto the street, as one police chief put it, before the ink is dry on the police report,” said Assemblyman Scharfenberger. “This cannot be allowed to continue, failing to act is putting our residents’ lives at stake.”

In the request sent to New Jersey Attorney General Matthew Platkin last week, the legislators have called into question the December directives passed down from the office to police departments that purposefully prevent law enforcement from protecting and serving their communities. The legislators want these disastrous policies changed as well as an immediate plan to deal with the growing crime epidemic impacting their towns as a result of Trenton’s actions:

“Under the Attorney General‘s guidelines, police are not allowed to pursue an individual in a stolen car even if they are just pulling away from the scene. As a result, criminals confidently smile at the police and go on their merry way with their stolen property. This needs to stop now, we want answers before this situation gets worse,” Scharfenberger continued.

“We do not have to look far to see the dangerous impact similar policies have had; case in point, the crime waves encompassing New York City illustrates exactly what will happen across New Jersey in the near future if we don’t act. This criminal utopia created by the administration needs to come to an end before it is too late,” concluded Flynn.

Assemblywoman Flynn and Assemblyman Scharfenberger plan on having open forum discussions with community leaders and police departments as well as advocate for policing policy changes until new policies are enacted.

Legislation Planned To Block Off-Duty Cops From Marijuana Use

April 25, 2022


TRENTON – Legislation is being drafted that would change state law and allow police departments to prohibit law enforcement officers from using marijuana for recreational purposes while off-duty.

Assemblywoman Victoria Flynn, R-Monmouth, said the bill is necessary because guidance from Attorney General Matthew Platkin telling police departments not to penalize officers for off-duty marijuana use would have disastrous legal and financial implications for local governments and future criminal cases.

“It’s in response to some of the issues that have been raised to us by local law enforcement about the intrusion into their operations by the attorney general’s taking I guess a laissez-faire approach to marijuana use by law enforcement officials,” Flynn said.

Flynn said a number of officials reached out to her legislative office because of confusion triggered by Platkin’s memo.

“It almost would have been better left unsaid,” she said. “The administration has had over four years to develop policies and procedures and get feedback from employers, especially public employers, on the issue of legalizing marijuana, and it seems that this was really a missed opportunity to figure out how best to roll this out when to comes to law enforcement officers, even DPW workers who use heavy equipment.”

Platkin said the memo was written in response to numerous questions from law enforcement chief executives.

“The April 13 memo simply reflects the letter of the law, including how it impacts police officers, and does not in any way go beyond the plain text of the statute as written or the regulations that the Cannabis Regulatory Commission has issued to date, nor does it reflect a policy position I have taken,” Platkin said.

“In my capacity as New Jersey’s chief law enforcement officer, public safety is my top priority,” he said. “To be clear, I share the concerns being expressed by some elected officials, legislators, and others with regard to the off-duty use of legal cannabis by police officers.”

Jersey City’s public safety director issued a directive barring off-duty marijuana use by police, and other municipalities have since done the same.

Platkin’s memo says police cannot use marijuana while on duty and that departments should discipline officers who are intoxicated on the job, as they do for alcohol use. But trace amounts of marijuana remain detectable in blood tests long after a person is no longer high.

The memo from Platkin is an interpretation of the legalization law enacted last year. Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger, R-Monmouth, who will also sponsor Flynn’s bill, said “it’s appalling.”

“This is just another example of how problematic this poorly written legislation has become and how the referendum hid information from voters,” Scharfenberger said. “First, it was the attempted removal of parental notification – now, it is greenlighting of drug use by police disregarding the issues it will cause.”

Next Monday is the next time legislation can be officially proposed in the Assembly, as a quorum call is scheduled that ends that house’s budget break.

The next date for a full round of committee hearings in the Senate and Assembly, other than the ongoing budget hearings, is Monday, May 9.

Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at [email protected]

Flynn & Scharfenberger Call on Governor to Reevaluate Priorities in FY23 Budget

March 8, 2022


Middletown, N.J. – Assemblymembers Victoria Flynn and Gerry Scharfenberger (LD13 – R’s) call on New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to reevaluate his FY23 Budget spending plan and instead focus on increasing affordability as many across the State struggle with increased costs negatively impacting their lives:

“New Jersey residents are confronting a real economic crisis, one that is wreaking havoc on their finances and crippling their lives. Yet, the Governor’s Budget proposal is void of any long-term plans to help alleviate the burdens carried on the backs of taxpayers,” Assemblywoman Flynn stated“Our residents deserve better; they deserve tangible recovery proposals to help combat the fiscal nightmares they now face. Instead of one-off limited rebate programs, the administration should be investing in ideas that would offer substantive relief like a moratorium on the unemployment insurance tax or rolling back the gas tax as well as ideas to lower property taxes all to increase affordability.”

“The Governor’s budget proposes an astonishing $2.5 billion increase in spending for Fiscal Year ‘23. This is on top of a combined $8 billion in previous years for a grand total of over $48 billion since he took office,” said Assemblyman Scharfenberger“The huge increase in spending coupled with borrowed money spells impending doom for future budgets and generations of New Jersey residents. When one time revenue sources evaporate, they will leave gaping holes that can only be filled enormous tax increases. Taxpayers simply cannot bear the burden of such unsustainable spending.”

The shortcomings in the budget are exacerbated by failed economic and social policies not only at the state level, but the federal as well. Currently, Americans are being crushed by the highest gas prices in more than a decade on top of increased overall costs here in the Garden State – all combining to create a perfect storm that spells disaster for New Jersey residents:

“Out of control government spending is devastating taxpayers – especially on the heels of runaway inflation, soaring gas prices, stock market volatility, supply chain instability and rising tensions around the world.,” Scharfenberger stated“If anything, the governor should freeze spending and institute a five percent reduction in the budget of every state department until he finds an actual plan to provide affordability to New Jersey’s struggling families, small businesses and seniors.”

“The reality is, without a robust budget recovery plan, many New Jerseyans will be pushed down the path to economic ruin,” Flynn indicated“There’s constant discussion around the notion of affordability, but little action to offer true help to struggling residents. Tough choices need to be made, but what cannot be done is disregard the future costs to our constituents for a temporary reprieve. Everyone had to make due with less during the lockdowns – Trenton should take a lesson from that.”

New Monmouth assemblywoman sets sights on pandemic recovery

January 18, 2022

New Jersey Monitor

In the uproar over the pandemic’s impact on schools, there may be no more dreaded place to be than on a school board.

Parents have packed meetings to demand or reject masking, vaccine mandates, and virtual learning. They’ve protested and threatened school board members. Sometimes, the police even get called.

But Vicky Flynn was happy to be at the center of it all, as president of the Holmdel Board of Education until last year.

“That’s where ground zero is now for those conversations,” Flynn said. “If I wasn’t on the school board, I would be the parent going to every meeting.”

Now, as she’s settling into her first days as a first-term legislator in the New Jersey Assembly, she still has schools on her mind.

Flynn, a Republican representing Monmouth County’s 13th Legislative District, said one of her top priorities as she heads into office is fighting to keep schools open. She fears the pandemic’s frequent educational disruptions will have lifelong effects for students — and that could impact the long-range well-being of the entire state.

“As a legislator, I would like to make sure our community colleges are equipped to handle learning loss and have them working hand in hand with high schools to ensure students get academic support. I’m also very concerned about the special education community. And we need to focus on literacy. Science shows that if kids don’t learn to read until third grade, it’s a problem,” Flynn said. “We have to be a leader in this country in how we’re going to address the loss of learning.”

Flynn beat incumbent Assemblywoman Serena DiMaso in the GOP primary last spring, after DiMaso lost the county party’s support, then with running mate Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger handily defeated their Democratic opponents in November.

Flynn is one of 10 female newcomers elected to the New Jersey Assembly last fall, a wave of women widely welcomed in a Statehouse whose legislators don’t reflect the diversity of the state. The election was especially good for Republicans, with a record number of new Republican women being elected to the Legislature.

“What that means is when the Republican caucus meets, women’s voices will be far better represented than they were before, and that’s important because those women will bring to those caucus meetings different life experiences, different perspectives, and different understandings of issues, which we hope will inform the positions of the party,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics.

“It’s really about impact,” Walsh added. “It’s hard, if you’re one of only a handful of women in the room, to have those perspectives heard. There is strength in numbers, and that’s an important change in this last election.”

A mother’s influence

Born in Hoboken, Flynn is a lifelong New Jersey resident who graduated from Rutgers and Seton Hall Law School.

She’s an attorney who started her law career clerking for the recently retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Jaynee LaVecchia. She left Hill Wallack’s Red Bank office to start her own firm this month, a move she said she made to accommodate her new duties as an assemblywoman.

Her late mother planted the seed for her public service. Kathryn E. Flynn was a Moonachie councilwoman so beloved in the tiny Bergen County borough they named a civic center after her.

Flynn’s first foray into politics came in 2011 in Nutley, where she served on the school board for two years. She was elected to serve on the Holmdel Board of Education in 2016, became board president in 2018, and held that post through the end of last year. She ran unsuccessfully for the Holmdel Township Committee in 2020.

Although Flynn was just 13 when she lost her mother to cancer, she still remembers the last lesson her mother imparted, a lesson that helped shaped her views today on virtual learning.

“She died on a Saturday. But before she died, she told my aunt that we all had to go to school on Monday,” Flynn said. “It was the last piece of guidance she could give us, as kids, that not only when you’re down, you got to get back up, but also going back to school is critical.”

Flynn has a personal stake in the issue. She and her husband, a civil engineer, have three daughters, ages 12, 15, and 17. All three have struggled in various ways with pandemic schooling restrictions.

Holmdel, a district of 3,000 students, was among the state’s first public school districts to return to full-time, in-person classes during the pandemic’s first year.

As a school board member, Flynn wrote Gov. Phil Murphy several letters inviting him to see the $1.3 million in infrastructure improvements Holmdel schools did in the summer of 2020 that the district said helped contain the spread of the virus. That included everything from improving air filtration to installing germ-killing ultraviolet lighting to putting antimicrobial gel throughout schools.

“We knew this would work in the state,” said Flynn.

Now that she’s a legislator, Flynn still hopes she can work with the governor and her legislative colleagues to try to reverse the pandemic’s damage, even though Murphy and a majority of the Legislature are Democrats.

“I don’t want to be a bomb thrower. I don’t think that works,” she said. “I want to be part of the solution.”

Still, she doesn’t think the answer is Murphy redeclaring the public health emergency, as he did last week. She said another Assembly priority of hers is to figure out “what can we do legislatively to address this constant use of emergency powers to do things that the legislative body says no to.”

“I feel like what is going on in this state is a big slap in the face of the Constitution,” she added. “I understood the need of the governor to use the emergency powers initially, but I feel like we’ve reached a point where it’s sidestepping the legislative process and needs to stop.”

She knows she doesn’t stand alone in her pandemic frustrations. She thinks that helped propel her into office.

“The level of frustration over what’s going on in schools should not be ignored,” she said.

For years, she often was one of the only women at the political events she attended. But that’s changing, she added. She sees more women engaging in politics, both as candidates and behind the scenes.

“I’m no longer the unicorn in the room. There’s a shift going on. The moms, the grandmoms, they’ve been woken up,” Flynn said. “We want an environment in which our kids and our families can succeed, and we see that being taken away from us, and we’re not going to stand for it anymore.”