By John Celock
New Jersey lawmakers advanced legislation to designate salt water taffy as the official state candy, spending more time on the issue than on potentially delaying the Common Core educational standards.
Lawmakers voted 61-7, with nine abstentions, to pass the taffy legislation, following a humorous debate centered on the current investigation into lane closures on the George Washington Bridge. The debate came after the Democratic-controlled Assembly killed a procedural effort to delay Common Core in the state.
Assemblyman John Wisniewski (D-Sayreville) pushed the taffy legislation, noting the idea came from fifth grade students art Samsel Upper Elementary School in Sayreville. The students testified before the Assembly Tourism, Gaming and the Arts Committee earlier this month to push the legislation.
Passage came after a debate between Wisniewski, the chairman of the Bridegate investigation committee, and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) on the bridge investigation. Bramnick, a close ally of Gov. Chris Christie (R) has long argued that Christie and his inner circle were not involved in the closure of the bridge lanes in retaliation against a Democratic mayor who did not endorse Christie for reelection. A Christie issued report shifted blame to former Port Authority official David Wildstein and former gubernatorial deputy chief of staff Bridget Kelly.
“On behalf of the taxpayers of NJ I want to compliment Assemblyman Wisniewski for not spending any money on this bill,” Bramnick said. “And understanding that this is a subterfuge is winding down the Bridgegate investigation and lacking any true evidence that the Governor Christie was not involved in any lane closures.
Wisniewski joked back to Bramnick that the taffy bill could likely require another investigation by his committee, noting that taffy had been brought to the Statehouse to entice lawmakers to passing the bill.
“There was some missing taffy and we will have to investigate,” he said to laughter on the floor.
The Bramnick/Wisniewski debate was longer than time spent on a proposal from Assemblywoman Allison Littell McHose (R-Franklin) to delay the implementation of Common Core in the state. McHose had moved to amend legislation that would delay new state tests to also allow for a delay of the education standards. Conservative lawmakers have been pushing to either repeal Common Core in their states or delay the implementation. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) recently signed legislation to repeal Common Core in her state.
The New Jersey testing legislation, which passed, is delaying the tests and teacher evaluation program, which a task force continues to study the matter. McHose argued that Common Core needs to be delayed to allow for further study including with testing that would come with the standards.
Conservatives in other states have argued against Common Core, saying it was federal intrusion into education. One Kansas lawmaker argued last year that the program would give President Barack Obama too much control over schools and children. McHose did not use any of these arguments.
Lawmakers killed McHose’s proposal on a procedural vote, approving a motion from Majority Leader Louis Greenwald (D-Voorhees) to table her motion to reopen the bill for amendments.
The taffy bill is the latest in states seeking to designate new state symbols. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) has signed legislation in his state to designate two dinosaurs as the official state fossils, while Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) has a bill on his desk to designate jumping jacks as the state exercise. The New York state Senate has passed legislation to designate frogs as the state amphibian. The New Jersey Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee has also advanced legislation that would designate the bumble bee as the official state native pollinator.