On January 17, 2014, Dusty’s Law was signed and enacted, ensuring that seeing eye dogs and seeing eye dogs in training will have additional safety protections under the laws of New Jersey. This was a measure that Keep NJ Safe worked on and advocated for, along with the man who inspired the bill and worked tirelessly for its passage: Roger Woodhour, the volunteer seeing eye puppy raiser who was with Dusty when the dog was attacked. [Read more about their story HERE]
Today, Roger and his wife Sheila are leaving New Jersey to enjoy their well-earned retirement years. Together, they have raised 31 seeing eye puppies for The Seeing Eye school in Morristown, NJ, and will continue to do so once settled into their new home. Keep NJ Safe Executive Director Lisa Yakomin recently presented Roger with a Certificate of Appreciation, in recognition of his efforts and advocacy. We wish Roger and Sheila all the best as they begin this new chapter.
On Thursday, January 19, 2017, the Assembly Transportation Committee will hear Assembly bill A4062, sponsored by Assemblyman John Wisniewski and Assemblywoman Angela McKnight. According to the bill description, this legislation “would allow prosecutors to more easily obtain conviction for vehicular homicide against a person who failed to maintain lane due to distracted driving.” If passed, the law would allow prosecutors who are seeking to convict someone of vehicular homicide to cite distracted driving as proof of recklessness. Using a hand-held wireless telephone has already been added to the definition of distracted driving under currently law, and this bill would expand the definition further to include inattentive driving that results in the unsafe operation of a motor vehicle due to the driver engaging in any of the following: reading, writing, performing personal grooming, eating, drinking, interacting with passengers, pets or unsecured cargo, or engaging in any other activity that causes distractions.
Both of the Prime Sponsors for A4062 are Democrats, but with Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg and Assemblyman Joe Howarth–both Republicans–signed on as co-sponsors, the Assembly bill now has bi-partisan support. The Senate version, S2342 (also known as “Eileen’s Law”, for accident victim Eileen Marmino, killed in July 2015), already boasts strong bi-partisan support, as it is prime sponsored by Republican Senator Dawn Addiego and Democratic Senator Patrick Diegnan. S2342 was released unanimously from the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee on September 29, 2016, and referred to the Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee, where it awaits further action.
Assemblyman Wisniewski, who is also the Chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, took quite a bit of flack back in August, 2016 for a bill he filed (A1908) that called for steep fines to be assessed on distracted drivers. A local news organization ran headlines that motorists could soon be ticketed for drinking coffee, and a pile-on of derision ensued, with affronted motorists crying “Nanny State” and extolling on their right to eat a hoagie while flying down the NJ Turnpike. The Transportation Committee put both A4062 and A1908 up for public discussion only on September 22, 2016, along with two other bills relating to distracted driving (A854, which calls for the creation of a Distracted Driving Task Force, and A4005 which would add questions about Distracted Driving to the NJ Driver’s Licensing exam). On Thursday, A4062 will be heard for potential release from Committee, a necessary step in getting the bill put before the full legislature for a vote. To hear the discussion on these bills, you can listen to the archived recording HERE. Discussion on the bills begins at the 33:07 mark. (Playback works best with Internet Explorer.)
While KEEP NJ SAFE supports the protection of an individual’s personal freedoms, without unnecessary or intrusive intervention by the government, we believe that a strengthening of the distracted driving laws are long overdue. On a recent drive to the Statehouse in Trenton, we spotted several motorists swerving dangerously over into the adjacent travel lane. In each case, the drivers were reading and/or looking down intently at their phones while texting. This behavior has to stop, and it is becoming more and more obvious that motorists are not doing enough to regulate themselves. There must be accountability when a driver allows unnecessary tasks to impede their ability to safely operate a car to the point where they are taking the life of another human being. Yes, folks, you CAN wait until you get to the office to have that cup of coffee, or wake up a few minutes sooner and have it at home. Isn’t 10 extra minutes worth saving a life?
The 2016 year-end statistics recently released by the NJ State Police Fatal Accident Investigation Unit are frightening, and cannot be ignored Fatalities for 2016 were up 8% over the previous year (a 12% increase in the number of deaths reported in 2013). A total of 607 people lost their lives in fatal motor vehicle crashes in 2016–and 166 of those deaths were pedestrians struck by a car.
One of the things that many people seem to forget when they read statistics like these, is that as bad as the numbers seem on the surface, the actual number of “victims” is far, far greater. Not only did 607 people lose their lives last year, but thousands of family members, friends, neighbors and community members were also deeply hurt and forever affected by the tragic loss of a loved one. Eileen Marmino left behind her devastated husband Paul, and 1-year-old twins, Joey & Ellie. Her parents, Bruce and Eileen, testified before the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee last September, and I expect they will do so again this week when the Assembly hears A4062. The pain they have endured is one that every parent fears most: losing a child. And yet, they are once again revisiting the tragic circumstances that took their daughter’s life, in an effort to save other parents from experiencing the same suffering.
If you would like to express your support for A4062, please email the Assembly Transportation Committee members as soon as possible, and ask them to release the bill after it is heard on Thursday. Their email addresses are as follows:
Keep NJ Safe Advisory Board Member Rosemarie D’Alessandro is calling on residents throughout New Jersey to support A373, the updated version of Joan’s Law, which will expand its protection to require Life in Prison without Parole for persons convicted of a sex crime against a victim that is 18 years of age or younger.
HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Support expansion of Joan’s Law with a phone call or email
1. Please call Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto at (201) 770-1303 or send him an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Ask him to post Bill number A373 for a vote at the January 23rd Voting Session of the full Assembly
3. Let him know that a vote on January 23rd will be very important in helping to get the bill passed on the 20th Anniversary of the passage of the first Joan’s Law, April 3rd.
4. The Bill A373 requires life imprisonment without parole for persons convicted of the murder of a minor under the age of 18 in the course of the commission of a sex crime. The current Joan’s Law protects children under 14.
5. Some points to consider when you call or email:
• Express your feelings on why the Bill should become law, and what it can do to protect all minors in our state, and bring justice to young victims.
• Explain what the expansion of Joan’s Law can mean in New Jersey, how it will strengthen the protection of our most vulnerable citizens (children), and will serve as model for other States to follow.
In response to a few recent email inquiries that have come through (I guess everyone is now in “tax season” mode), yes, the Keep NJ Safe Foundation IS a registered 501(c)3 public charity, and as such, donors can deduct contributions they make to this organization under IRC Section 170.
However…we do not currently accept donations of any kind. Since its inception in 2009, this organization has always been a “labor of love”, and I’ve been personally funding the costs associated with KNJS (i.e. the website hosting, photo copying, postage, etc). All of our Board members and Advisory Board participants also volunteer their time, without any compensation.
I would like to expand our outreach and education services at some point, which will require more resources than I can fund by myself, so we will eventually set up a way to donate, but we’re just not there yet. In the meantime, for those who have expressed a desire to support our efforts, thank you. For now, we simply appreciate your moral support, in the form of letter-writing and sharing our Call to Action info as needed.