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Gov. James J. Florio of New Jersey has used a high school as a forum for issuing a new challenge in his bruising political battle with the Republican-majority legislature.

Speaking to 400 students at Hackensack High School this month, the Democratic Governor announced that he would veto a bill loosening the state's two-year-old ban on assault weapons.

Calling the bill a political payoff to the National Rifle Association, Mr. Florio urged legislators to put the issue before the voters in a nonbinding referendum. "It's time for them to stop this reckless assault against our ban, our children, and our future,'' he said.

Republicans have the two-thirds majorities in both chambers needed to override the veto, but observers suggested they might not try, given opinion polls showing the public backs the Governor on the issue.

At the school, Mr. Florio also signed measures tightening rules against weapons on or near school property. Even then, however, he kept up his partisan rhetoric.

A bill creating 1,000-foot "gun free'' zones around schools represents a "cynical'' G.O.P. use of the schools, Mr. Florio charged, adding that the measure "isn't about making our schools or our streets safer.''

The Florio administration's education chief, meanwhile, has called for cooperation and compromise in efforts to rewrite New Jersey's controversial school-finance-reform law.

The 1990 law, which directed substantial amounts of new state aid to the poorest school districts, has been sharply criticized by suburban educators and was a factor in the G.O.P. takeover of the legislature in last year's elections. Republican leaders are launching a major overhaul of the measure this fall.

Testifying before a joint legislative hearing, Commissioner of Education John Ellis agreed that the law needed revision and promised to work with lawmakers.

"We've got to avoid pitting district against district, wealthy against poor,'' Mr. Ellis said. "We can't encourage divisiveness.''

"It will require a lot of statesmanship, some cranking of the computers, and some compromise,'' he added.

Still, the hearing was hardly free of partisan rancor. Another administration official accused G.O.P. lawmakers of repeating "nasty rhetoric'' from the Republican National Convention, while a Republican charged that Mr. Ellis had manipulated spending cuts to cast the legislature in a negative light.--H.D.

Vol. 12, Issue 03

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