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From the Governor’s Desk
Let’s Help New Jersey’s Elderly: Hang Up on Consumer Fraud By CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN
It’s 5: 30 at night. You’re eating dinner at home. The phone rings. But it’s not a friend, a relative or even the office on the line. It’s a “friendly” telemarketer!
While we’ve all been “interrupted” at the dinner table, during the evening
news or midafternoon from an unsolicited phone call, that’s not what I’m talking about here.
It’s the serious issue of consumer fraud that concerns me. In New Jersey, there have been a growing number of consumer fraud complaints especially against senior citizens. The
combination of the sheer size and age of our senior population, with the growth in assets from a strong economy, has led some fraudulent and dishonest businesses to target the elderly.
New Jersey has one of our nation’s largest senior citizen populations. One in seven state residents is 65 years of age or over, and it is anticipated that this ration will reach one in four in the next 30 years.
Telemarketing complaints from residents rank fifth in the number of complaints registered with the Division of Consumer Affairs. The National Fraud Information Center (NFIC) reports that New Jersey remains in the top 10 states from which telemarketing complaints have originated. At the same time, the NFIC finds that that 25 percent of all of its telemarketing complaints come from citizens age 60 and older.
On another note, our older residents are particularly vulnerable to dishonest home repair schemes; as many of three in four seniors own their homes with the majority of them more than 30 years old. Each year, more than 50,000 New Jerseyans report to the state and county consumer affairs’ offices that they have been the victim of unscrupulous home repair contracts.
These numbers concern me. It’s why I want to see legislation enacted requiring the registration of telemarketing organizations – similar to what we’re seeing move through the Legislature with the mandating of registration for home improvement contractors.
Keep in mind that our Division of Consumer Affairs already prosecutes fraudulent telemarketers under the state’s Consumer Fraud Act. The Division of Consumer Affairs imposes penalties from up to $7,500 for a first offense and $15,000 for each offense afterwards.
But I believe strengthening the Consumer Fraud Act to increase penalties for first offense and $20,000 for each subsequent one will further protect residents.
Under current law, the Consumer Fraud Act is only an enforcement tool – to fight fraud after its been committed. I want to see the Consumer Fraud Act also work to stop problems before they happen.
By further amending the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act to require mandatory telemarketing registration with the Division of Consumer Affairs, seniors will be more shielded from the dishonest practices of telemarketers. Such a tool will give the Division of Consumer Affairs a jumpstart in any investigation; telemarketers will need to tell the state who they are, where they are located and how they can be reached.
Supporting the passage of this legislation to provide some muchneeded consumer safeguards in the area of telemarketing and home improvement contractors – especially with regards to the state’s elderly residents – is one more way that my administration has been reaching out to help the many faces of our one New Jersey family.
And it’s why I’ve expanded senior services, protected PAAD, improved the Homestead Rebate program, as well as the Property Tax Freeze for qualified seniors. It’s also why I initiated a $5 million Independent Living package to help our senior citizens maintain their independence. Included is an array of communitybased services, from eliminating the waiting list for delivery of inhome meals to extending congregate housing services for the needy.
This $5 million package supports my threeyear $60 million program dedicated to the elderly that was announced last year.
It’s all about creating more ways to make New Jersey a better place to live, work and raise a family – and to retire and watch the grandchildren grow.
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Christine Todd Whitman was elected to the 50th Governor of New Jersey in 1993 and reelected in 1997.
Christine Todd Whitman Safety of Kids Addressed
In New Scooter Helmet Bill By ALAN M. AUGUSTINE
As we all know, scooters today are the rage among young people. They have replaced bicycles, skates, and skateboards as the “in thing” to use. While they may be fun to ride, however, it has also become obvious that
they can cause serious problems and even lead to gedy.
It was in late August that I first learned about the dangers of scooters.
At the time, I was walking on the boardwalk in Cape May and saw a youngster, about fiveyearsold, riding a scooter. She was not protected by any gear, and oblivious to any danger the scooter posed.
It was when the child nearly rode her scooter off the boardwalk which is about three feet above the road, that I knew something had to be done to provide some measure of safety for children riding scooters.
A week later, the Consumer Products Safety Commission reported 700 percent increase in emergency room treatments of scooterrelated injures since May 2000 and noted that 4,000 of these injures were treated in August 2000 alone. Ninety percent of the injuries were suffered by children under 15yearsold.
By this time, I was having a scooter bill drafted.
Then, in midSeptember, when I spoke to fourth graders in Clark and Scotch Plains during Legislators Back to School Day, the need for a scooter bill became even more apparent.
Many students related stories about accidents they and their friends had suffered riding scooters.
Only a few said their parents made them wear helmets to avoid injuries.
The fourth graders were enthusiastic about my Scooter Bill and even sent me letters thanking me for doing something to make riding scooters safer.
Modeled after current laws regulating bicycles, roller skating and skateboarding, my legislation requires children under 14 years of age to wear a helmet while riding a scooter. Under the bill, a parent or guardian of a child who fails to wear a required helmet,
can receive a fine of up to $25 for a first offense an a fine of up to $100 for a subsequent offense.
The fines would be deposited into the “Bicycle, Skating and Scooter Safety Fund” to be used by the Director of Consumer Affairs. We need to protect children who ride scooters, and we need to teach them how to ride safely, so they won’t get hurt.
With that goal in mind, my bill also requires scooter manufacturers to include a warning notice. It would state that the risk of serious injury can be reduced by using a scooter only while wearing a helmet, wrist guards, elbow and knee pads.
In order to minimize the possibility of scooters being ridden in dangerous places, my legislation allows municipalities to prohibit the rising of scooters on property under the municipality’s jurisdiction. After the death of a sixyearold boy who was killed when he rode his scooter into traffic, several municipalities were considering legislation to prohibit scooters on certain roads, but it is something which should be done statewide.
All of these measures combined, I sincerely hope, will make the public more aware of the dangers of riding scooters, and more alert to children on them. Most importantly, the bill will provide the safety measures which will significantly reduce injuries suffered by children riding scooters.
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Alan Augustine of Scotch Plains has represented the 22nd Legislative District in Trenton since 1992. He is a former Scotch Plains Mayor and former longtime member of the Scotch Plains Township Council.
America’s Senior Citizens Deserve Better Health Care By ROBERT G. TORRICELLI
As the 106th Congress comes to a close, it appears that Congress will once again fail to address many of the most important issues facing America’s families. Over the last two years, Congress has squandered numerous opportunities to make progress in areas such as strengthening gun safety laws, upgrading our public schools, and, most im portantly, improving health care.
One of the most alarming failures is the inability to provide assistance in addressing the high costs of prescription drugs.
Since Medicare was created in 1965, new treatments and medicines have been developed that were not even dreamed of by the most prominent research scientists and physicians of the day. Unfortunately, Medicare has failed to adapt to the medical revolution that has taken place over the last 35 years and it is now failing to fully meet its obligations to today’s seniors.
Currently, there are over 40 million seniors in America who depend on Medicare for quality health care, but more than onethird of them do not have any prescription drug coverage. Over 13 million seniors, many on fixed incomes and living below the poverty line, spend nearly $600 per year in costs beyond what their insurance plan covers. With the cost of prescription drugs rising, this will only get worse.
Prescription drugs are frequently the most effective treatments not only for saving lives but for preventing illnesses from becoming major medical problems. Beyond curing diseases that were once considered untreatable, prescription drugs are a vital aspect of enabling older Americans to continue to enjoy a high level of activity and quality of life.
It is a great irony of the current system that Medicare provides coverage for expensive treatments that can often be prevented with appropriate medications.
According to studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health, treating patients with prescription medicines can save tens of thousands of dollars per patient with drugs, which can cost less than $200, eliminates the need for surgery, which can cost approximately $30,000.
Fortunately, with record federal surpluses projected, the means are available to provide prescription drug coverage for Medicare recipients. Each day, the wonders of modern medicine are enhancing our ability to treat and prevent diseases. It is imperative that these benefits be made available to all and that the high cost of prescription drugs not be a barrier to access for older Americans.
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Robert G. Torricelli of Englewood was elected to his first term as a United States Senator from New Jersey in 1996.
Only the State Can Help Revive Glory Once Known In Camden
‘ By RICHARD H. BAGGER
Camden never saw it coming. Profits were good in 1965 and 1966, so stunned might be the word to describe
city residents as they opened their newspapers in 1967 to discover that New York Ship was closing its doors and shuttering its Camden yards.
For 68 years, New York Ship had been a symbol of pride for Camden. It built the battleships and cruisers that won the wars in 1918 and 1945 and kept the peace in between. It was gone, an unfortunate omen for Camden, once one of New Jersey’s Big Six cities, but now, like New York Ship, a ghost of its former self.
By any measure, Camden is in horrific shape. It’s mayor was recently indicted. Until the State Police intervened, its streets were essentially lawless. Twelve percent of its buildings are abandoned; the city, with a 3,000 building inventory of tax defaults is the single largest property owner, and holds liens on another 7,000 – almost a third of the property in town. Per capita income is $7,276, about a third of the state’s average, and 35 percent of its households have incomes below the poverty level.
Need more? There are an estimated 200 open air drug markets, 7,000 people in public housing and 13 percent unemployment. Single mothers head 38 percent of its households and 40 percent of its adults do not have high school diplomas. Its people are outside the main stream of the region’s and the state’s economy, out of work and pretty much out of hope.
As The Reverend Willie Anderson was quoted as saying recently, “Nobody should have to live like this in America.” Reverend Anderson should know; as the Director for the Camden Churches Concerned for People, he faces Camden’s woes first hand.
None of this is for a want of trying by many men and women of good hearts and great convictions. The state poured money into the aquarium, the Sony Center, new state office buildings and a new park along the banks of the Cooper River. The
Battleship New Jersey Museum is coming and so is a brand new waterfront minor league baseball park.
More important, during the 1990s, a churchsponsored group has redeveloped more than 100 abandoned rowhouses, part of a master plan to rebuild 1,200 houses, a block by block, brick by brick, house to house reclamation of the city. What have these good people gotten for their hard work? Fifty percent higher property taxes, placing a millstone around the necks of people trying to pick themselves up off the floor.
What they haven’t gotten from Camden’s elected leaders is far worse. As one member of the church group was quoted as saying, the city “is absolutely necessary for the longterm health of this neighborhood and it is absolutely absent. We ultimately cannot do the streets, and we need them done. We cannot do the sewers, and we need them done. We cannot reduce taxation, and we need it done. And we cannot reduce drugtrafficking, and we need it done.”
Camden as we know it is dying and small measures cannot save it. Governor Whitman has proposed a bold solution: a state takeover of Camden. I am sponsoring the bill that will make it happen. The reaction has been sadly predictable.
The very City Council which cannot keep safe its citizens, which can not clean its streets, and which must
rely on the State for $70 million a year – about 70 percent of its annual budget – is opposed. It is not hard to figure out why. A state takeover of Camden would take away their power of patronage and their power of the purse.
More disappointing are the reactions those who cannot get past political dogma and partisan suspicions to look frankly, clearly and honestly at what is a tragedy for Camden the City and Camden’s people. They should listen to what the Brookings Institute has to say: “Camden is an economic failure… Ideally the city would be disincorporated, but no unit of government will take the resulting pieces…”
Perhaps more important, they should listen to what Reverend Anderson has to say: “Only the State has resources necessary to recover a City in the condition Camden is in.”
While a State appointed manager would shepherd Camden back to fiscal health, he or she would be aided by an advisory board that includes Camden residents and civic leaders. While the manager charted a course, people from groups such as the Concerned Black Clergy and the Camden Churches would be right alongside, helping determine that course.
Short of this, one is hardpressed to think what else the State could do. We fought the War on Poverty in Camden and Poverty won. Urban renewal was not. We have tried and used every conventional and orthodox approach we know – and they failed.
In the past six years, the State has pumped a total of $2 billion into Camden. The sad fact is that simply turning over the money to a city government that cannot govern is the equivalent of driving down Admiral Wilson Boulevard and tossing it out the window.
When state experts attempted to go over the city’s books and figure out how so much money could produce so little return, they could not decipher the ledgers and did not get much cooperation from the people who might help.
Taxpayers around the state don’t want to keep throwing good money after bad. They want to know that there is a plan that’s going to work, that one day they won’t be the life support on which Camden increasingly depends.
But more than, the status quo is too high a price to pay for the people of Camden. Back in July, before the Republican Convention across the river in Philadelphia, someone asked a Camden grandmother about the spruce up along Admiral Wilson. She said, “They’re going to fix all that up for the convention. They need to fix up everything else. What are they doing about the houses? Housing is useful. Getting those people off the corners is useful.”
Abraham Lincoln once noted that “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion.”
Camden is a place where not only the quite dogmas of the past – but all the dogmas of the past – have failed over and over again. We must rise to the occasion with new ideas and a new approach.
Back in the day of the New York Ship, Camden used to be known as “The Biggest Little City in the World.” We may never get back to the glory days of the New York Ship. We can, however, get back for Camden the kind of life its residents used to have, used to enjoy and used to count on. Capable, competent and courageous leadership that the state can provide will move Camden in that direction.
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Richard H. Bagger of Westfield has represented the 22nd District in New Jersey State Assembly since 1992. He was Mayor of Westfield in 1991, an elected position, after serving six years on the Town Council. He chairs the Assembly Appropriations Committee and has introduced legislation for the state to takeover the City of Camden.
Richard H. Bagger A Vote for Questions 1 & 2 Will Enhance Quality of Life For All New Jerseyans, Says Senate President DiFrancesco By DONALD T. DIFRANCESCO
There are many decisions that voters will be asked to make when they enter the polls on November 7. No less important than New Jersey residents’ choice for the candidates who will serve at the local, state and national levels are the votes they will cast for the two public questions that appear on this year’s ballot.
Both public questions ask New Jersey residents to decide on issues that will impact the quality of living in New Jersey, particularly as they relate to their health, safety and welfare. To achieve the goals of these referendums, Public Question Nos. 1 and 2 ask residents to amend the State Constitution. It is a process that the Legislature takes seriously and is only willing to support when an amendment is necessary or is of significant benefit to the sate as a whole.
Public Question No. 1, which recognizes the need to build new roads, highways and bridges, certainly meets the criteria. As every resident knows, there may be no greater threat to the environment, the economy and the public health
then congestion and gridlock. Public Question No. 1 supports a program that will offer both shortand longterm relief to this pressing issue. The question asks voters to approve a portion of the funding that will implement a comprehensive new law that will renew the Transportation Trust Fund and implement a fouryear, $3.75 billion program to improve our transportation infrastructure.
Public Question No. 1 does not call for new taxes. It does not require any new fees. It does not take from the general budget and it does not deplete surplus. It dedicates revenue from two existing and appropriate source, the sale of petroleum products and the sale of new motor vehicles.
If passed, the Transportation Trust Fund can begin major road and infrastructure
projects that will help areas, like Union County, stop the sprawl and
ease the crawl are eroding the quality of life throughout the state.
Public Question No. 2 addresses another issue of importance to area residents and that is, the safety of their kids. Question No. 2 provides an amendment to the State Constitution that would enable the state to maximize the use of technology in disclosing information to the general public under New Jersey’s precedentsetting Megan’s Law.
Few tragedies hit home like the murder of Megan Kanka in 1995 at the hands of a neighbor, but out of this tragedy grew a national referendum on the right to know about the presence of sexual offenders in our communities. New Jersey’s Megan’s
Law has endured a number of legal battles, but its real effectiveness in providing information concerning sex offenders has been hampered by the communications limitations placed on the state.
The approval of Public Question No. 2 would move this statute into the 21st century by enabling New Jersey to use the Internet, telephone hotlines and other new technologies in disseminating information under Megan’s Law.
Amending the Constitution should not be taken lightly. But neither should the integrity of our roads and bridges and the safety of our neighborhoods. Public Questions Nos. 1 and 2 puts the welfare of our residents first and on November 7, you can too by supporting these two amendments.
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Donald T. DiFrancesco, Scotch Plains resident, represents the 22nd Legislative District in the State Senate. He has been Senate President since January 1992.
Donald T. DiFrancesco
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