Bill tackles domestic violence

State lawmakers have advanced legislation that would create a limited self-defense justification for domestic-violence victims who use force to protect themselves.

The measure would make some evidence regarding domestic-violence restraining orders admissible and relevant in determining whether such force was justifiable during a specific incident. It would apply in cases in which a person protected by an order used force against someone who is the subject of that order.

The Assembly passed the measure this month and sent it to the Senate, where it has been referred to the Judiciary Committee. But that panel has not yet scheduled a hearing on the proposal.

State wants teens to buckle up

New Jersey will begin an effort next year to improve on a grim reality: Motor-vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death for teenagers and young adults, the age group least likely to wear seat belts.

The state Division of Highway Traffic Safety and the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey are working to fund a program at high schools to encourage safer driving. The "U Got Brains Champion Schools Project" will give $1,000 to two schools to create their own initiative and compete against 17 others to win driving simulators.

The project is named after a website the government agency and group created a few years ago - - to teach young people about the importance of safe driving habits.

"The main focus today is on texting while driving, but we can't forget about seat belts," said Bill Kolbenschlag, a communications associate with the Brain Injury Association of New Jersey, which built the website using state grants.

Electric-rate caps to come off

Nearly 15 years after Pennsylvania set electricity deregulation in motion, rate caps are to expire Saturday for four of the state's largest utilities. The anticipated rate spikes for customers of Peco Energy, Allegheny Power, Metropolitan Edison and Pennsylvania Electric aren't expected to be nearly as painful as once expected, thanks to a slow economy and the growing natural-gas industry.

The coming hikes at the four utilities will affect about 60 percent of the state's customers. Peco customers will experience a 5 percent increase, to 9.92 cents per kilowatt hour. A difference of 1 cent can equal about $10 a month for a residential customer who uses about 1,000 kilowatt hours a month.

The only major utility competition is shaping up in the Philadelphia area, where 17 electric suppliers are making offers to customers, Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher said. "Our hope is that that will pick up after the first of the year," Kocher said.

- Staff and wire reports