TRENTON - The New Jersey Legislature tackled more than 100 bills Thursday along with the state budget, in advance of lawmakers' summer recess.
Gun-control advocates won a victory by the passage of a bill that could make New Jersey the fourth state with a one-handgun-per-month buying limit.
Proponents say the bill will fight "straw" buyers who purchase guns legally and pass them on to criminals.
The measure was approved in the Senate with the bare- minimum 21 votes after Sen. Fred Madden (D., Gloucester) dropped his opposition to the idea.
Madden was one of three South Jersey Democrats who previously voted against the plan, joining all 17 Senate Republicans to block it.
But the former state police superintendent changed his vote after Gov. Corzine agreed to form a task force that will examine the law's impact and draw up recommendations that could lead to exemptions for gun collectors and competitive and recreational shooters.
Republicans argued that the law will do little to stop criminals. New Jersey has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, and most guns used in crimes come from other states. The limits, Republicans said, will only impinge on law-abiding citizens. Criminals, they argued, will keep obtaining guns illegally.
"You are taking away the most fundamental right that we as Americans have," said Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R., Essex). "Do you really think this is going to do one iota to stop and curb some of the horrific gang violence that we have?"
Under the bill, buyers would be restricted to one handgun purchase every 30 days - up to 13 a year because of timing quirks.
Another bill that received final legislative approval, sponsored by Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald (D., Camden), would allow developers who have received approval to build housing limited to residents over 55 to request that the age restrictions be lifted.
The bill included recommendations suggested by Gov. Corzine that would give local officials more options in considering such requests. They may require that 20 percent of units in affected projects be set aside for affordable housing, for example.
"Allowing some new age-restricted developments the opportunity to open doors to families of all ages will create jobs, provide working families affordable places to live, and ensure local input remains a guiding factor of these development projects," Greenwald said.
Greenwald said projects where even one person over 55 has purchased a home or moved in would not be eligible to be converted.
A bill to allow the involuntary commitment of people to treatment in an outpatient setting also received final legislative approval.
Senate President Richard J. Codey (D., Essex), who sponsored the bill, said it would bring much-needed mental-health assistance to a population that often gets overlooked.
"Our goal is to minimize time in the hospital and keep patients in the least restrictive environment that will help foster their recovery," Codey said. "Without the option of outpatient commitment, those that go untreated are likely to pose a serious danger to themselves or others."
The bill was spurred by two recent incidents, including one in August, when a schizophrenic man from Galloway Township killed his mother and one of his 12-year-old twin nieces. Prior to the incident, the man had refused treatment for his schizophrenia.
Another bill sponsored by Codey that was approved Thursday calls for the state Department of Human Services to report the number of physical assaults and deaths at state psychiatric hospitals.
The bill is part of a package of measures designed to improve patient safety at and oversight of the state psychiatric hospitals, in response to a high number of injuries and deaths at state facilities, including Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Winslow Township.
The Senate also voted Thursday to confirm the re-nomination of Justice Barry T. Albin to the state Supreme Court.
"In his seven years on the court, Justice Albin has demonstrated the fairness, the judgment, the compassion, and the commitment to the rule of law that we must demand of our Supreme Court justices, and has proven to be a thoughtful and progressive member of our state's highest court," Corzine said in a statement following the Senate vote.
The Legislature also gave final approval to bills that would:
Require health insurers to cover the costs of screening for autism and other developmental disabilities, along with the costs of therapies.
Create a pilot program in Gloucester County to merge municipal property-tax assessors into a countywide office. The merger is intended to save money.
Require drivers to make reasonable efforts to remove ice or snow from a vehicle prior to driving. Police would be authorized to stop vehicles that could pose a threat to safety or property and drivers could be fined $25 to $75.
Expand consumer protections under the state's Lemon Law.
Require all consumer goods made with fur to include a label indicating the type of animal or animals used to produce the fur and the country of origin for the fur.
Require county medical examiners' offices to contact family members of patients who die in long-term care facilities and psychiatric hospitals to obtain information to investigate the circumstances of the death.
Direct county superintendents on how to merge nonoperating school districts with neighboring school districts. Nonoperating school districts pay tuition to send all of their students to neighboring school districts.