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Sports-betting bills up for votes

Lawmakers said they would drop portions that would permit bets from computers or cell phones.

ATLANTIC CITY - The authors of New Jersey's proposed sports betting law said Monday they were willing to drop portions that would permit people to bet from their home computers or cell phones, to overcome objections by Gov. Christie.

Sen. Ray Lesniak (D., Union) said he would drop those provisions if he could not persuade Christie, a Republican, to go along with them. The bill is due for final votes in the Senate and Assembly on Thursday.

Soon after Lesniak made his comments, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a South Jersey Democrat who has sponsored a similar bill in the Assembly, said he also would drop Internet and phone betting when his measure came up for a vote Thursday.

Lesniak said it was important to pass a law authorizing sports betting - even if it did not include Internet and phone betting - so the state could quickly ask a court to overturn a federal ban that keeps New Jersey among states prohibited from offering sports betting.

Lesniak tried once to sue the federal government over the 1992 federal law, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which limits sports betting to the four states that approved it by a 1991 deadline - Nevada, Delaware, Oregon, and Montana.

A judge dismissed Lesniak's first lawsuit. But he believes a new lawsuit will succeed if the state enacts a law as a follow-up to November's nonbinding referendum in which voters approved sports gambling by 2-1.

While Christie urged approval of the ballot question, he also has vetoed a bill that would have made New Jersey the first state to approve in-state Internet gambling.

Christie said he vetoed the bill in March because he believed it violated the state constitution, which confines all casino-style gambling in New Jersey to Atlantic City. He also voiced concern over backroom "Internet betting lounges" cropping up in restaurants and bars across the state.

Supporters of sports betting say the state is missing out on tax revenue because many fans bet illegally with bookmakers on sports.

Also Monday, a state Senate committee approved a bill that could make it easier to build in areas near Barnegat Bay and other environmentally sensitive areas in the state.

The measure would keep sewer service approvals in place for up to two years and prohibit local governments from protecting land already eligible for development by removing it from areas approved for sewer service.

The sewer boundaries determine where large-scale development can take place.

Proponents say extending the life of sewer boundaries would help boost construction jobs and help the state shake off the sluggish economy. Opponents say it could make it easier for developers to build near fragile Barnegat Bay, where pollution would make its way into the water.

"That is not a trade-off that the public in New Jersey has ever accepted," said Tim Dillingham, executive director of the American Littoral Society, a Sandy Hook coastal conservation group.

Dom Paragano, president of the New Jersey Builders Association, welcomed the measure, saying it would provide certainty to builders that their plans could move forward in a difficult economy.

Sen. Steven Oroho (R., Sussex) said the law was needed to help put tradesmen back to work.

Environmentalists at the hearing denounced the bill, saying it would undo decades of progress in improving water quality in New Jersey.

"This is the biggest attack on clean water by the New Jersey Legislature in years," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club.

Additionally, a Democrat sponsoring a bill to end five- and six-figure sick-leave payouts for retiring public employees, but permit some cash value for unused sick leave, clashed Monday with Christie, who wants to eliminate such payouts.

Sen. Paul Sarlo of Bergen County said the governor was holding up the bill over a relatively small difference that would end unlimited payouts for all future employees.

Sarlo wants to allow nominal payouts in order to discourage employees from using up their sick-leave allotment every year.

"A year ago, the Legislature unanimously passed [a bill] with input from Democrats, Republicans, and the governor's office and put a bill on his desk that would have immediately stopped all of these ridiculous sick payouts," Sarlo said. "While the governor has grandstanded the past year, and argued about whether it should be $15,000 for employees or $0, he has cost these municipalities money."

Christie said Monday that he was unlikely to compromise.

He accused Sarlo of "selling himself out to the public sector unions," saying the legislator's compromise would cost the state, county, and local governments $3.25 billion.

Christie vetoed legislation last year that would have capped the payouts at $15,000. Democrats then offered a $7,500 cap.

The legislation came about after abuses in the system came to light, whereby retiring employees were cashing out hundreds of days of accumulated sick time.