NEWARK – Governor Murphy on Monday signed into law – and the Legislature passed – several important bills that will promote racial justice, help New Jersey’s young people and expand democracy in the Garden State.

“During a time when we are seeing unrelenting assaults on racial justice and equity in America, we are encouraged that we are making progress in New Jersey in some important areas,” said Andrea McChristian, Law & Policy Director at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “This movement forward would not happen but for the hard work of advocates across the state showing up when it matters.”

The governor signed into law a bill (S3319/A5507) eliminating oppressive fines and fees for young people caught up in the criminal justice system. Some of these fines and fees were eliminated two years ago; this bill finishes the job by abolishing outstanding fines and fees. A recent report by the Institute’s Camden Youth Council called out the damaging impact of these fines and fees.

“It’s painful enough for young people to experience the punitive treatment doled out in our broken youth justice system,” said Yannick Wood, Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “These monetary penalties on top of that have been a sentence upon a sentence that have prevented youth from moving on with their lives. This new law will have a profound impact on many young people.”

Gov. Murphy also signed into law a bill (A5380/S3683) that will expose the extent of racial disparities in student loan debt in New Jersey. The Institute’s Freed from Debt report called for the collection of racial data regarding student loan debt – data that will now be gathered under this new law.

“Because students of color are particularly affected by student loan debt, it is critical that we have better data on racial disparities in student loan outcomes as we work toward closing the racial wealth gap and toward a New Jersey where students are not saddled with oppressive outstanding loans just as they are beginning their adult lives,” said Laura Sullivan, Director of the Economic Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice.   

The Legislature passed A4655/S3595, which will keep police at least 100 feet away from voting locations. It will now head to Gov. Murphy for signature. The Institute and its partners have heard from voters that police presence at voting sites has been a concern for them, and addressed the issue in an Election Protection report from 2021.

“Whether intentional or not, having law enforcement near a voting site can be intimidating to voters – especially Black voters who have had negative experiences with police,” said Henal Patel, Director of the Democracy & Justice Program at the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. “No one should be intimidated out of casting a ballot. This bill adds to other recent pro-democracy laws in our state like the establishment of early in-person voting, restoring the vote to people on probation and parole, and ending prison-based gerrymandering.”

Finally, the New Jersey Assembly passed S896/A2396, a bill to make public defender services free for youth under 18 – an issue also highlighted in the Making Them Pay report by the Institute’s Camden Youth Council. The bill had already passed in the Senate and is now on its way to Gov. Murphy’s desk.

“Youth should never have to pay to defend themselves against criminal charges,” said Wood. “Now it’s finally time to fully transform the youth justice system overall by closing its antiquated and harmful youth prisons and investing in kids in their communities to keep them out of the system in the first place.”