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N.J. Measure Seeks Constitutional Ban on Unfunded State Mandates

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When it comes to unfunded state mandates, these are the types of measures that have raised the hackles of New Jersey school officials:

  • A law requiring the observance of Commodore Barry Day, in which a New Jersey native son who helped found the U.S. Navy is honored.
  • A measure dictating the required size of school libraries.
  • A law requiring that students receive annual scoliosis examinations, despite expert medical advice that such frequency is unnecessary.

Some of the requirements have been eliminated recently by the legislature or the state school board. But they are examples of the mandates that local governments in New Jersey hope to stave off with adoption of a state constitutional amendment that appears on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"We look at it as a good-government bill," said Frank Belluscio, a spokesman for the New Jersey School Boards Association, which is one of the primary supporters of the amendment. "This will put the brakes on the way we've been operating."

The amendment would require lawmakers to pay for any legislative measure they impose on cities, counties, or school districts. Twelve states have such constitutional bans on unfunded mandates, although experts note that creative state lawmakers have easily navigated around them.

Mr. Belluscio said that under the proposed amendment, if the state decided that districts should teach all students cardiopulmonary resuscitation, for example, it would have to pay for the instruction. Any disputes over whether a law represents an unfunded mandate would go before a special nine-member panel, which would get the final say.

Mr. Belluscio said that while the requirement to honor Commodore Barry may not carry a huge price tag, the measure dictating library size costs school districts $40 million to $60 million a year. Until they were changed recently by the legislature, state construction codes would not allow districts to count the space occupied by movable furniture as part of their library square footage. This resulted in districts building libraries larger than they might otherwise to meet the codes.

The NJSBA expects the measure to pass, since the legislature voted strongly in favor of placing it on the ballot and it has generated little opposition, Mr. Belluscio said.

Statewide Races Heat Up

Voters going to the polls in next week's off-year state elections will also decide who will be governor in Kentucky and Mississippi.

The Kentucky race pits Republican Larry Forgy, a Lexington lawyer, against Democratic Lt. Gov. Paul Patton, a former coal company executive and county manager in eastern Kentucky.

In Mississippi, Gov. Kirk Fordice, a first-term Republican, faces Secretary of State Dick Molpus, a Democrat. The direction of education-reform efforts has also been a central issue there. (See Education Week, Oct. 25, 1995.)

Voters in Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia will elect state legislators. (See story, page 1.)

Statewide elections will be held later this month in Louisiana.

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