Senate Committee Substitute (First Reprint) for
Senate, No. 2430
An Act declaring violence a public health crisis, establishing the "Study Commission on Violence" and supplementing Title 52 of the Revised Statutes.
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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientific agencies have been barred by Congress from using federal funds to advocate or promote gun control, which appears to ban scientific agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from using federal funding to conduct research on the causes of gun violence. Congress should remove this ban and allow these scientific agencies to use federal funding to conduct this critical public health research; and
q. 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 violence in order to help raise awareness about one of this country's most significant public health crises.
2. a. There is established a Study Commission on Violence to study the issue of violence. 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 member of the commission shall be the Administrative Director of the Courts or a designee, who shall serve ex-officio. One member of the commission shall be the Commissioner of Human Services or a designee, who shall serve ex-officio. One member of the commission shall be the President of the County Prosecutor's Association of New Jersey or a designee, who shall serve ex-officio. Two public members of the commission shall be appointed by the Governor. One member appointed by the Governor shall be a person who has a background or education in mental health 1, and the other member appointed by the Governor shall be a person who has a background or education in the study or treatment of domestic violence1. One public member of the commission shall be appointed by the President of the Senate. One public member of the commission shall be appointed by the Speaker of the 1General1 Assembly.
Vacancies in the membership of the commission shall be filled in the same manner as the original appointments were made.
b. The members of the commission shall be appointed within 30 days of the effective date 1of P.L. , c. (C. )(pending before the Legislature as this bill)1 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.
c. 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.
d. The Department of Law and Public Safety shall provide support staff to the commission, as necessary.
e. 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.
c. The commission shall study the issue of insufficient access to mental health treatment and violence.
d. The commission shall study and make recommendations regarding whether the Special Offenders Unit created by the Union County Prosecutor's Office to address the increase in criminal prosecutions against individuals with mental illness should be expanded to other counties.
e. The commission shall study and recommend whether the community-based mental health treatment system, through which there are involuntary outpatient commitments under a court order supervised by a case manager, should be expanded to all counties in this State and how to adequately fund the program in all counties.
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 the first report to the Governor and to the Legislature pursuant to section 2 of P.L.1991, c.164 (C.52:14-19.1), no later than the first day of the seventh month following its organization and shall issue annual reports thereafter, containing its findings and recommendations, including any recommendations for legislation and recommendations for Congressional action that it deems appropriate
5. This act shall take effect immediately.
Declares violence a public health crisis and establishes "Study Commission on Violence."