On the same day national security presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie jumped into fourth place in the New Hampshire Republican Primary, Assembly Democrats failed to override Christie’s veto of public safety gun bill S-2360 (A-3593).
What ended up as a much-debated, politically thorny bill originally passed at the urging of the courts in the assembly with unanimous Republican support by a vote of 74-0. Then Christie crushed the bill, forcing members of his party in the legislature into the awkward position of having to try to reverse their initial support.
Missing by three votes, the (late, wavering) tally was 51 in favor of the override, 17 against, and 11 abstaining. Perhaps a sign of the coming inability of Democratic leadership to twist the arms of three Republicans came as the assembly started an hour late today.
Four Republicans crossed the aisle to vote in favor of the override: Assemblyman Chris Brown (R-2), Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli (R-16), Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26), and Assemblywoman Amy Handlin (R-13).
Technically speaking, Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) yanked the bill immediately prior to suffering the indignity of an official failure as the vote board flickered, failing to get the speaker to the required 54.
A prodigious debate occurred in the lead-up to the vote.
The rural-state-vote-seeking Christie vetoed the legislation that Democratic – and originally Republican – lawmakers say would help keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people by requiring those seeking to have their mental health records expunged in order to purchase a firearm notify law enforcement. The information would be used by the courts when deciding to approve the application, giving law enforcement a voice in the process and providing the courts with more information before approving an expungement to allow gun purchases.
Subdued because of yesterday’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, California that resulted in the killing of 14 people and prompted a moment of silence on the floor, but buoyed by the Senate’s successful override of the governor on this bill, Prieto put the same bill before his colleagues this afternoon.
But in a sign of the unwieldy, more challenging terrain of lower house politics (the assembly has never been able to override the GOP governor), the bill failed to pass as Republicans refused to give Democrats the necessary votes.
Pointing to the reasoning in Christie’s conditional veto and making the case that the bill doesn’t successfully keep guns out of the hands of people with mental issues, Republicans throughout the long debate tried to argue that they weren’t informed the first time when they unanimously backed the bill.
They implied that Democrats want to embarrass Christie with the bill, or at least have politics as their motivation. “Are we really rying to protect public safety with this particular bill?” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-40). “The reality is there is a loophole as big as a Mack Truck.”
That so-called loophole in an alternative bill put forward by Senate Minority Leader Tom Kean, Jr. (R-21) would require people with a psychiatric profile who apply for expungement of their record to additionally alert police for other reasons, not just the purchase of a gun.
But the bulk of Republicans led by Christie ally Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-21) saw it differently, and liked the CV offered by Christie.
“What’s wrong with making this bill stronger?” Assemblyman Tony Bucco (R-25) wanted to know, while Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon (R-13) accused Democrats, by resisting the Kean bill and doubling down on their initial legislation, of “poking the governor in the eye.”
Early in the debate, Republicans tried to introduce the compromise bill put forward by Kean.
“I’m not going to play politics because politics is not going to protect them,” said Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-26), who attempted to offer Kean’s bill on the floor.