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After legislation introduced without input, Dunn calls for process change

Updated: Jan 22

NEW JERSEY – Flaws in New Jersey’s legislative process were exposed Thursday when the Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Council testified in the Assembly Women and Children’s Committee that they weren’t originally consulted on legislation requiring them to prepare a report on suicide prevention instruction in schools.

The claim caused the Democrat committee chair to become defensive, but Assemblywoman Aura Dunn said it should spur change because good governance is a two-way street.

“You have highlighted a lot of the flaws to the system and the lawmakers here should also take responsibility for it. It is a two-way street. We are meant to listen, not to be constantly talking at,” Dunn (R-Morris) said at the hearing in response to Dawn Doherty, an appointed member of the state’s suicide prevention council and executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.

Doherty expressed concerns that groups doing the work on the ground are not involved in the process of writing the bill. She said the particular bill (A3526) was introduced prior to soliciting any feedback.

Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera (D-Gloucester), the committee chair, said, “It doesn’t always work that way. This is the legislative process. Welcome to Trenton. It is an imperfect system. I find beauty in it. This process is home to me.”

Dunn, an outspoken advocate for more transparency in government, said it’s time for the Legislature to post and consider her constitutional amendment (ACR144) to require every bill and joint resolution introduced in the Legislature to be heard in committee. She said it might give bill authors pause before introducing something to the pipeline that hasn’t been properly vetted.

“We should not say, ‘Well, that’s how it works.’ This means it’s time for a change. We should never send bills to an agency and say, ‘You know what? You guys figure it out.’ We have bills that come back that we have to clean up,” Dunn said.

The bill unanimously passed the committee after Mosquera agreed to relay feedback to the prime sponsors of the bill.

“I cosponsor the legislation because teenage mental health is one of my top priorities. My school district lost five children to suicide in just three years,” Dunn said. “But the testimony in committee underscores the importance of fixing our legislative process.”

To listen to the discussion on the bill, click here.

From December 1, 2023

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