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State Street: For businesses, labeling bill is food for thought

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A bill that would require the labeling of genetically modified food drew plenty of lively discussion from the business community as it went before a committee in the state Senate last week.

Environmentalists, organic farmers and others are pushing for the labeling mandate because they say it would better inform consumers about whether the food they choose is genetically modified. Jeff Tittel, executive director of the Sierra Club's New Jersey chapter, told the committee the bill, S-1367/A-3192, also would be in line with the Garden State's history as a progressive state.

"When we look at the history of this Legislature, New Jersey has always been a progressive state when it comes to right to know," he said.

But groups like the New Jersey Chemistry Council, New Jersey Farm Bureau, the Biotechnology Industry Organization and BioNJ came out in opposition to the move, saying it was unnecessary and would stigmatize food that hasn't been proven harmful.

Ed Waters, director of government affairs for he chemistry council, also questioned whether the state had tabulated the cost of enforcing the law, since it would be the first state-level labeling mandate.

Patrick Plues, speaking on behalf of BIO, said the state's laws ought to be science-based, and he said the science doesn't support the notion that genetically modified foods are inferior. He also said such a law could send the message that "New Jersey is closed to scientific innovation."

But Sen. Robert Singer (R-Lakewood), one of the primary sponsors of the bipartisan bill, said arguments about the relative safety of genetically modified foods miss the point.

"Nobody's telling you not to produce it," he said. "Nobody's telling you you can't grow it, you can't use it. They're just saying, shouldn't the consumer know that's part of the end product they're consuming?"

Home care industry
battles a call for more licensing

The home health care industry is crying foul over a bill aimed at weeding out disreputable firms.

The bill, S-2100/A-3133, would expand the definition of health care service firms, and impose new licensing requirements. Specifically, the bill would require all licensed firms to be accredited by an entity recognized by the Department of Human Services. Those firms that receive government funding also would be required to get an independent audit of their expenditures.

The bill is designed to protect patients receiving care at home, as well as taxpayers whose money goes to fund some of that care.

Rob Robison, owner of Comfort Keepers of Central New Jersey, a trio of home health care franchises based in Red Bank, said he agrees the state could do more to crack down on unscrupulous providers, but he said the accreditation requirement isn't the way to go.

For one thing, he said, the franchise standards for his company already are more stringent than accreditation guidelines. For another, accreditation can only go so far.

"Being accredited does not expose many of the problems that exist, in terms of the quality of care or the use of funds," he said. "In addition, the accreditation, as it is currently structured, has no recourse when there is an adverse finding, other than to simply ask an agency to correct it."

Robison, a former municipal administrator, said the better answer would be for the state to adopt a more comprehensive licensing standard, rather than farming out accreditation. Seventeen states already have such a model, which he said can be financed through fines or higher licensing fees.

"We could expand the enforcement process at no cost to the taxpayer," he said.

The bill was released by the Senate Budget and Appropriations committee March 4.

Top lobbying firms hold rank
as overall spending shows fall

Total spending on lobbying dropped by 24 percent in 2011, but the rankings of the top multi-client lobbying firms remained steady last year, according to preliminary data from the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission.

Dale Florio's Princeton Public Affairs group reported $8.36 million in receipts to keep the top spot. Public Strategies Impact ($6.09 million) and MBI GluckShaw ($4.13 million) rounded out the top three.

Spending on in-house salaries dropped by 7 percent, the report showed, as did compensation to outside agencies. And while the number of lobbyists remained relative flat at 929, the number of clients served hit a new all-time high of 2,077.

Spending among special interest groups was more turbulent. Public Service Enterprise Group took the top spot, followed by the New Jersey Hospital Association, Honeywell International, Barnabas Health and Verizon.

Last year's special interest list was topped by the New Jersey Education Association, followed by Verizon and PSEG.

No such thing as a free ride?
Tell that to tour bus operators

A bill giving tax breaks to companies that bring tourists to Atlantic City was released by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee March 4, but not without a dig from the committee's chairman.

The bill, S-1094, would limit the state's corporate business tax to shield companies whose only business in the state is transporting tourists here. A 2002 law had specifically required such companies to pay taxes.

"Since the state began collecting taxes on tour bus operators, operators bringing visitors to New Jersey have suspended or threatened to suspend future trips into the state," said Assemblyman Nelson Albano (D-Cape May Court House), one of the lead sponsors of the Assembly version, A-1887.

At last week's Senate hearing, lawmakers voted unanimously to release the bill, but Chairman Sen. Paul A. Sarlo (D-Wood Ridge) suggested it was a slippery slope.

"It almost seems like we're doing everything under the sun to get people to come to Atlantic City," he said. "The next thing we're going to do is we're going to have a bill here to pay them $10 each to go there, and pay for their gas and pay for their meal."

If tourists have to be paid to come to Atlantic City, Sarlo offered a different solution.

"I understand," he said. "We've made an investment there, but build (a casino) in the Meadowlands. We don't have to entice them to come."

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