TRENTON - Small wineries could directly ship wine to consumers and retailers under legislation that passed the Senate, 23-13, on Thursday, one of dozens of bills that lawmakers sped through in their last voting session of the year.
"New Jersey wineries are by and large considered among the best in the country, but consumer access to these wines is still severely limited. This legislation will change all of that," Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), a sponsor, said in a statement.
The legislation affects wineries that produce up to 250,000 gallons of wine a year.
Attempts to lift the state's requirement that wineries sell to state-licensed wholesalers have long stalled in the Legislature. And a federal court ruling last year struck down an arrangement under which New Jersey allowed small wineries to sell wine at a few locations without wholesalers because it did not allow out-of-state wineries the same option.
In an effort to level the playing field, Thursday's bill would permit small wineries both in and out of the state to operate those outlets.
The legislation next heads to the Assembly.
Also Thursday, the Senate granted final legislative approval to a measure restoring $139 million in transitional aid to distressed cities, including Camden. To win Gov. Christie's support, lawmakers added $1.5 million for the state to oversee the program.
"My signature on the transitional aid bill is now guaranteed with the Legislature's recognition that much needed aid for our urban cities must go hand in hand with commonsense and permanent oversight - something the taxpayers of New Jersey demand and deserve," the governor said in a statement.
The Senate also gave final legislative approval to a key part of Democratic legislators' economic development agenda, a bill that allows laid-off employees to receive jobless benefits while attending on-the-job training with a company for up to 24 hours a week for up to six weeks.
Christie vetoed a similar bill earlier in the year, criticizing it as fiscally irresponsible, and is unlikely to support the measure this time around.
Also heading to the governor's desk is "Caylee's Law," a bill that would make failing to report the disappearance of a child within 24 hours a felony.
The measure, which gained final legislative approval Thursday, was named for Caylee Anthony, the Florida child who was missing for a month before her grandmother reported her disappearance. A jury found the girl's mother, Casey Anthony, not guilty of murder.
Meanwhile, the Assembly approved a bill increasing penalties for assault by auto in cases of road rage. The legislation was named for Jessica Rogers, who is now in a wheelchair after being injured in a car accident stemming from road rage.
The measure would increase the crime from a fourth-degree to third-degree offense, and make it punishable by three to five years in jail, a fine of up to $15,000, or both.