The NJ Legislature continues to hold remote Committee Hearings and Voting Sessions. This week, the Senate passed a bill addressing hazing activities at middle, high and higher ed levels and a bill that would waive the physical requirements for Fall middle and high school athletes. The General Assembly passed a bill ensuring insurance coverage for students attending school graduation exercises in July and August of 2020, and the “Bridge Year” bill, having passed both houses, was sent to the Governor’s desk.
By a unanimous vote of 40-0, the Senate this week passed a bill named for Timothy Piazza of Readington, a 19-year-old Penn State University student, who tragically died in February 2017 during a fraternity hazing ritual. S-84/S-2093 would upgrade the crime of hazing from a disorderly persons offense to a fourth-degree crime if it causes bodily injury, and to a third-degree crime if it causes serious bodily injury. The bill would also require high schools, universities, and student organizations to take a more active role in preventing and punishing hazing activities and requires boards of education to adopt a written hazing policy. This bill has been received in the Assembly and been referred for a hearing before the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee.
The Senate also unanimously voted (37-0) to pass a measure that would delay the physical examination requirement for student-athletes who participate in school-sponsored athletic activities during the fall athletic season of the 2020-2021 school year. S-2518 was drafted in response to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the state’s health care system. The bill as originally drafted was notably broader and was amended significantly at the Committee level. As amended, the bill would permit a student-athlete who has not completed a physical examination within 365 days prior to the first day of official practice in the athletic season, as required under current law, to participate in a school-sponsored interscholastic or intramural athletic team or squad during that athletic season, provided that the student-athlete completes the physical examination before the end of the athletic season. Under the bill, the NJ Department of Education would also be required to prepare an updated health history update questionnaire, which in addition to the information required under current statute, will include questions about the student-athlete’s exposure to or contact with COVID-19. If the student-athlete answers in the affirmative to any question included in the health history update questionnaire, then the student-athlete may not participate on the school-sponsored interscholastic or intramural athletic team or squad until he or she is further evaluated by the school physician, or if a school physician is not available, any other licensed physician. An Assembly companion to this bill has just been introduced (A-4295) this week, and the bill awaits action by the lower house.
By unanimous vote, the General Assembly passed a bill ensuring that individuals attending school-sponsored graduation exercises between July 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020, and who have graduated from the school in the immediately preceding school year will, for purposes of any insurance coverages afforded the school’s registered and enrolled student population beginning July 1, 2020, be considered included in the enrolled and registered student population while attending the graduation exercises. As A-4227 was originally drafted, the insurance coverage was extended through July 31st. This bill was amended at the Committee level. Once several of our school building leaders alerted us that some of your graduations were scheduled for August, we were able to work with the sponsor and have the bill amended to extend the timeline out to the end of August. This bill has now been referred to the upper house (S-2558) and awaits a hearing by the Senate Education Committee.
The General Assembly also gave final passage to a bill enabling graduating high school seniors from the classes of 2021 and 2022 to participate in a ‘bridge year’ immediately following their senior year. Specifically, the legislation directs the Commissioner of Education to establish a three-year “Bridge Year Pilot Program” allowing students to defer graduation and remain enrolled in high school while taking a certain number of college credits with non-matriculated status. During this year, students would be able to participate, under certain conditions, in extracurricular activities offered by their host high school and in spring sports as permitted by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. This bill was passed unanimously by the full Senate in May. The vote was not as unanimous in the lower house, with the General Assembly voting 56 in the affirmative, 17 in the negative, and 5 members abstaining.
NJPSA submitted testimony expressing concerns about the legislation which include the:
- potential fiscal impact of this program,
- staffing concerns as a bridge year liaison is required in the high school,
- the perpetuation of unfairness and lost opportunities through the displacement of younger students in high school sports and extracurricular activities,
- the physical and emotional differences that would be evident between the younger and bridge year students (must be age 18 or 19 only),
- Code of conduct and the application of all school rules to the bridge year student, and
- Insurance concerns.
The sponsor was willing to work with NJPSA on addressing some of our concerns and ultimately a Committee Substitute advanced. While NJPSA could still not support the Committee Substitute, the association did achieve important amendments. With the passage by the General Assembly, the measure now heads to Governor Murphy for his signature.
We would like to acknowledge and give a special thanks to the NJPSA Legislative Committee and all of the NJPSA members who so generously give their time to share valuable input, feedback and ideas on bills as they are moving forward in our new remote world. We will continue to track, monitor and weigh in on all of the bills that impact you, your students, staff and buildings. If you have any questions about any of the bills considered this week, or any others, please do not hesitate to contact Director of Government Relations Debbie Bradley @ firstname.lastname@example.org and/or Assistant Director of Government Relations Jennie Lamon @ email@example.com at any time.