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N.J. Legislature defies Christie on guns, environment

Shooting down a potential book deal for Gov. Christie was not the only way New Jersey lawmakers bypassed the governor last week.

Shooting down a potential book deal for Gov. Christie was not the only way New Jersey lawmakers bypassed the governor last week.

On Monday, the Assembly took the final legislative step to prohibit the adoption of a regulatory change Christie touted earlier this year that would make it easier to get a permit to carry a handgun. Employing constitutional authority, lawmakers passed a resolution declaring the change incompatible with "legislative intent."

They also approved placing a constitutional amendment on next year's ballot to ask voters to ensure that settlement money from natural resource damages cases is spent remediating pollution, not on other uses. Environmental groups had pushed the measure, citing past diversions of funds by Christie's administration.

"This vote was a clear bipartisan rebuke to Gov. Christie," said Doug O'Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, which backs the amendment.

The measure won a three-fifths majority in both houses, which means lawmakers need not hold a second vote to get it on the 2017 ballot.

The resolution to stop the permitting change went through two votes in both houses, a requirement for declaring a rule in violation of legislative intent.

Christie's administration proposed expanding the "justifiable need" standard for carrying a handgun, allowing permits to be issued to people facing "serious" threats that could not be avoided by other "reasonable" means. The current standard requires that a permit applicant face a specific threat that could not be avoided by "any" other means.

Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen), one of the sponsors of the resolution to prohibit the change, said the governor "does not have a right to change our laws through regulation."

Passage of the resolution for a second time Monday means the rule is prohibited from taking effect, Weinberg said.

Paul Loriquet, a spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, declined to comment Wednesday about how the Legislature's action would affect the pending rule change. He also would not say whether the administration would take the issue to court.

Because the proposed change had not taken effect, no permits have been issued under the expanded standard, Loriquet said.

In advocating for the change, Christie invoked the case of a Camden County woman killed by an ex-boyfriend after her application for a firearm permit was delayed.

The Legislature's action "ensures that New Jerseyans will remain victims, and lawmakers will have blood on their hands," said Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs.

If people want to expand the standard for carry permits, Weinberg said, "Let somebody put in a bill, and we'll talk about changing the law. We do have a system where people can get the right to carry."

She said there were legitimate complaints about the length of time involved in processing gun permits.

The constitutional amendment approval follows dismay over the terms of a natural resources damages lawsuit settlement between the state and ExxonMobil last year. The agreement specified that $50 million of the $225 million settlement be deposited in a fund for environmental purposes. Groups are challenging the agreement in court to get the entire amount dedicated to the environment.