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State Street - Charge to support credit card bill

The Legislature's fast-moving effort to ban credit card surcharges may have retailers up in arms, but they're in the minority, according to Assemblyman Gary S. Schaer (D-Passaic).

"I have never posted a bill which has garnered more interest or more support than this one — on both sides of the aisle," said Schaer, who took office in 2006. "I stopped at four prime sponsors. I could have easily gotten another two dozen."

The bill became an issue Jan. 27, when credit card giants Visa and MasterCard changed their policies and allowed retailers to add surcharges to customer's bills, to help offset the interchange fees credit card companies charge retailers. Retailers sued the credit card companies back in 2005, claiming they colluded to fix interchange rates. Last month's policy change is part of a proposed settlement in the lawsuit.

Ten states already banned such surcharges, but not New Jersey. That fact became widely publicized Jan. 27, and it didn't take the Legislature long to act.

"I heard it on the radio Sunday morning around 9:30 or so," Schaer said.

By noon, Schaer said legislators were calling him asking if he was planning a bill.

"On Monday morning, I asked (the Office of Legislative Services) to draft a bill. As it turns out, many of my colleagues also did," he said.

A carve-out was added in Sen. Nia H. Gill's (D-Montclair) Senate Commerce Committee on Feb. 4, and sought to allow gas stations to continue giving "cash discounts" to customers who pay in cash, as opposed to with a credit card.

Sal Risalvato, executive director of the New Jersey Gasoline, C-Store and Automotive Association, said that was an important step.

"The bill does not prohibit cash discounts, but because we don't want anybody to ever interpret that it means we can't do cash discounts, we asked them to add that," he said.

Sen. Minority Leader Thomas H. Kean Jr. (D-Westfield) suggested the cash discount allowance be expanded to all businesses, but Gill moved the bill forward without voting on Kean's amendment.

Risalvato and John Holub, president of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, both say the real issue isn't surcharges, but the fees credit card companies charge, which retailers say are too high. Holub said retailers don't even want to add surcharges due to contractual limitations, and because customers won't like them.

Schaer said he doesn't buy into the narrative of "big bad retailers" or "big bad" credit card companies. He said his main concern is transparency.

"We need to be transparent," he said. "That's what it's all about. Customers have a right to transparency. They have a right to know what they're paying."

Continuing dislike of N.J.'s Facebook bill

A bill that grabbed headlines last year before fading away could be back on the Legislative agenda soon.

The so-called "Facebook bill," A-2878, would prohibit employers from asking employees or job applicants to disclose their social media user names or passwords. It easily passed both houses of the Legislature last year, but needs a vote on concurrence from the Assembly before it can head to Gov. Chris Christie's desk.

The bill has lingered at that status for more than three months, but Marcus Rayner, executive director of the New Jersey Lawsuit Reform Alliance, thinks the bill will be revived. He said that's cause for concern.

"We have no problem with the ostensible premise of the bill, which is to prevent employers from demanding your password to your social media accounts," he said. "The problem is the bill goes beyond that. … (It) prevents employers from even asking if you have a social media account."

Rayner said the bill's broad protections would seemingly prevent an employer from asking for a job applicant's social media username, even if it's relevant to the hiring process.

"I can imagine many employers these days want to hire people explicitly because they have experience with social media," he said.

It's unclear when the bill might move forward, but one legislative source tells State Street the sponsors remain committed to the bill.

Stefanie Riehl, assistant vice president at the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, said she hopes the bill is amended substantially before it gets to Christie's desk.

"The issue for us is that it creates a new right to sue," she said.

Riehl said the bill lays out a new rationale for a job applicant to sue if they don't get a job they applied for. Even if the suit's without merit, it would still create thousands of dollars in legal bills for the company, she said.

Riehl said four other states already have similar social media protections, but none creates the potential for lawsuits.

A blueprint to fight minimum-wage hike

Last week's Senate vote to put a minimum-wage increase on November's ballot increased the likelihood of a lengthy fall campaign on the question. If the Assembly approves the resolution, voters would get to decide whether to raise the minimum wage and allow for automatic increases based on the consumer price index.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president at the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, said it's too early to say what type of campaign, if any, his group and other business groups might wage to fend off the referendum.

"We've talked a little internally, but there's nothing for public release as far as where this goes and what role we'll play and the direction this issue will take," he said.

Egenton said he's still holding out hope that a compromise will be reached before the measure ends up on the ballot, though time is ticking away.

If they do wage a campaign, Egenton said they have a blueprint for a success in last year's higher education referendum campaign.

"That was an organized effort that was with business and labor," he said. "So I'd just point out that we have gotten involved in the past on ballot issues, and as far as a decision on minimum wage, we still are discussing that internally."

Michael Turner, a lobbyist with Burton Trent Public Affairs, said there may be a way to keep the question off the ballot even if the Assembly approves it.

"A bigger question is maybe not so much a public campaign but some sort of legal action that will challenge the mechanics of getting it on the ballot in the first place," he said.

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