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Fire Code A Smoking Gun On Christie’s Executive Order On NJ Regulatory Policy

Christie’s “Regulatory Relief” Order Restricts State Agencies To Minimum Federal Requirements

Democrats In Legislature Must Step Up and Block Christie Rules

The Bergen Record reports today that the Christie Administration’s update of NJ’s Uniform Construction Code (UCC) does not include new requirements to address a major fire in Edgewood, despite recommendations by fire safety experts, legislators and the public:

For months after a five-alarm fire ripped through a massive apartment complex in Edgewater and left a pile of debris in its wake, residents, firefighters and lawmakers called for changes to state regulations that dictate building standards and requirements, in hopes of improving fire safety.

Many provided input to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which happened to be in the midst of updating the state Uniform Construction Code, a process that takes place every three years.

On Monday, the newly revised code will take effect. But absent are the changes that so many had been pushing for after the Avalon at Edgewater fire.

Department of Community Affairs Commissioner Richman says he is not authorized to go beyond minimum national standards:

“While many people commented on changes they wish to see in the code relative to the construction of mid-rise buildings, we have no authority to exceed what the national code calls for,” Richman said.

Assemblyman Wisnewski disagrees with Richman’s interpretation of State law, while a local Assistant Fire Chief was “shocked” by Commissioner Richman’s interpretation.

What I’m shocked by is that apparently no one is aware of the likelihood that Richman’s interpretation of State law with respect to his authority to exceed minimum national standards is influenced strongly by Gov. Christie’s Executive Order #2.

Gov. Christie has set a statewide policy, which is mandatory on all State agencies, to provide “regulatory relief”, to rely on minimum federal standards, and to not exceed minimum federal standards:

1. For immediate relief from regulatory burdens, State agencies shall 

[a. – d.]

e. Detail and justify every instance where a proposed rule exceeds the requirements of federal law or regulation. State agencies shall, when promulgating proposed rules, not exceed the requirements of federal law except when required by State statute or in such circumstances where exceeding the requirements of federal law or regulation is necessary in order to achieve a New Jersey specific public policy goal.

The EO provides limited exceptions to go beyond federal minimums – and the Edgewater fire clearly provides a strong basis to deviate from the Christie federal minimum policy.

But the Gov.’s Office must review and approve rules prior to proposal and they enforce compliance with the EO and strongly discourage exceptions – while the business community uses the EO as a hammer against State agencies on regulatory issues.

Under EO #2, the business community is provided an advanced “pre-proposal” review of drafts of any new rules, a process which is explicitly intended “to prevent unworkable, overly-proscriptive or ill-advised rules from being adopted.”

The business community uses that “heads up” and the EO #2 “regulatory relief” policy’s minimum federal standards and new cost-benefit analysis requirements to block necessary new rules, regardless of the public interest, public health and safety, or protections of the environment.

NJ State agencies historically have been national leaders on regulations, given NJ’s unique challenges related to population density, heavy industrialization, and legacy pollution.

Christie’s Executive Order reversed 40 years of history, changing NJ from a national leader to a national laggard.

Christie’s EO has put a brake on State agencies and forced rollbacks to existing regulations.

Taking NJ two steps back, recently, DEP has even failed to meet minimum federal requirements on flood, water quality, and coastal zone protections.

Assemblyman Wiznewski needs to hold hearings and use his Constitutional power to block any regulation that is “inconsistent with legislative intent” until the recommendations of fire safety experts are included in new UCC rules.

In case Wiznewski needs it, here’s the Constitutional language:

6.   No rule or regulation made by any department, officer, agency or authority of this state, except such as relates to the organization or internal management of the State government or a part thereof, shall take effect until it is filed either with the Secretary of State or in such other manner as may be provided by law.  The Legislature shall provide for the prompt publication of such rules and regulations.  The Legislature may review any rule or regulation to determine if the rule or regulation is consistent with the intent of the Legislature as expressed in the language of the statute which the rule or regulation is intended to implement.  Upon a finding that an existing or proposed rule or regulation is not consistent with legislative intent, the Legislature shall transmit this finding in the form of a concurrent resolution to the Governor and the head of the Executive Branch agency which promulgated, or plans to promulgate, the rule or regulation.  The agency shall have 30 days to amend or withdraw the existing or proposed rule or regulation.  If the agency does not amend or withdraw the existing or proposed rule or regulation, the Legislature may invalidate that rule or regulation, in whole or in part, or may prohibit that proposed rule or regulation, in whole or in part, from taking effect by a vote of a majority of the authorized membership of each House in favor of a concurrent resolution providing for invalidation or prohibition, as the case may be, of the rule or regulation.  This vote shall not take place until at least 20 calendar days after the placing on the desks of the members of each House of the Legislature in open meeting of the transcript of a public hearing held by either House on the invalidation or prohibition of the rule or regulation.

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