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    East Orange Campus High School held its commencement ceremony on Monday evening at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange. Graduating seniors waved to family and friends as they marched into the stadium. The ceremony started at 6:00 pm and featured speeches by valedictorian Adriana Nunez and salutatorian Brianylis Tavares and keynote address by Pastor Desmond Yarborough. MORE PHOTOS  Graduation season is here, and NJ.com is...

    East Orange Campus High School held its commencement ceremony on Monday evening at Paul Robeson Stadium in East Orange.

    Graduating seniors waved to family and friends as they marched into the stadium.

    The ceremony started at 6:00 pm and featured speeches by valedictorian Adriana Nunez and salutatorian Brianylis Tavares and keynote address by Pastor Desmond Yarborough.

    MORE PHOTOS 

    Graduation season is here, and NJ.com is capturing the moments for many New Jersey high schools. Check back at nj.com/essex for other local high school graduation coverage. Be sure to check out our complete graduation coverage at nj.com/graduation.

    BUY THESE PHOTOS

    Are you one of the people pictured at this graduation? Want to buy the photo and keep it forever? Look for a blue buy image link below the photo.  You'll have the ability to order prints in a variety of sizes, or products like magnets, keychains, coffee mugs and more.

    Aristide Economopoulos can be reached at aeconomopoulos@njadvancemedia.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @AristideNJAM and Instagram at @aeconomopoulos  Find NJ.com on Facebook


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    The New Jersey protests will coincide with a large "Families Belong Together" rally scheduled for June 30 in Washington, D.C.


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    Some districts would see their state aid double in one year.


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    Vote for your favorite North Jersey hot dog joint in our epic N.J.'s best hot dog showdown.

    North Jersey is the center of the hot dog universe - how will it do in our N.J.'s best hot dog joint showdown?

    You can vote for your favorite place starting right now. 

    You can vote once in each category each day. Deadline for voting is 11:59 p.m. Thursday, July 5.

    Since there are so many hot dog spots in North Jersey, we've divided it into two regions - North Jersey I (Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, Sussex, Warren) and North Jersey II (Essex, Union, Morris). 

    The top six vote-getters in each region, plus my 26 picks, will comprise the 50 semifinalists, which will be visited starting Monday, July 9. 

    Don't forget to vote in our other categories:

    North Jersey I (Bergen, Hudson, Passaic, Sussex, Warren)

    Central Jersey

    South Jersey/Jersey Shore

    Peter Genovese may be reached at pgenovese@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PeteGenovese or via The Munchmobile @NJ_Munchmobile. Find the Munchmobile on Facebook and Instagram.


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    The School District of the Chathams says its lessons on Islam did not violate the Constitution.

    The School District of the Chathams said it "remains confident" in its teaching methods, even though a U.S. District Judge ruled against its motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a parent who said her son was forced to watch Islamic conversion videos for his 7th grade social studies class.

    The district insisted in a statement released after its board of education meeting Monday that its teaching about Islam was appropriate, and begrudged that it will need to spend "countless hours" defending itself against the lawsuit.

    Libby Hilsenrath filed the suit in January on behalf of her then 12-year-old son who was taking a World Cultures and Geography class at Chatham Middle School during the 2016-2017 school year.

    The boy was forced to do a worksheet and watch two videos -- "Intro to Islam Video" and "The 5 Pillars of Islam" -- that promote and advance the Islamic religion under the threat of lower grades, she alleges in the suit.

    Hilsenrath also alleges that the study of Christianity and Judaism were ignored.

    Judge Kevin McNulty ruled June 13 on a motion filed by an attorney for the school district that the "untested" scenario merits further exploration.

    The district's statement said the facts that will be developed during the discovery period of the litigation "will clearly demonstrate" that the curriculum did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which declares that the government cannot mandate a religion for people to follow. 

    The class, the statement says, covered a "wide variety of topics," including the study of Hinduism and Buddhism.

    "This ... would entirely eviscerate the Plaintiff's claim that the district was promoting or endorsing the Islamic faith," the district said.

    The district referred to the lawsuit as "baseless" and "frivolous" and noted that the plaintiff withdrew its claim for compensatory damages.

    "This voluntary action by Plaintiff clearly establishes that no harm came to either her or her son as a result of the district's curriculum," the district said.

    School officials were also pleased that the judge suggested the plaintiff narrow the defendants in the lawsuit from the superintendent, assistant superintendent, middle school principal, social studies supervisor, and two social studies teachers.  McNulty, in his ruling, said the teachers should be excluded. 

    "They may wish to focus in particular on the necessity, and the pedagogical ramifications, of retaining the two defendants who are middle school social studies teachers," the judge wrote.

    An attorney for Hilsenrath, Kate Oliveri of the Thomas More Law Center, said the motion to dismiss was "a further attempt by the school district to bully and silence Mrs. Hilsenrath."

    Based in Michigan, the Thomas More Law Center is a non-profit firm that describes its mission as helping "preserve America's Judeo-Christian heritage," and "defend the religious freedom of Christians," among other goals.

    Allison Pries may be reached at apries@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @AllisonPries. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Ahmed Anthony, who broke into the family's home in an attempt to steal two Range Rovers, will likely be sentenced to 14 years in prison.

    A family returning home from vacation didn't expect to hear a man's voice in their driveway so late at night.

    The mother and older daughter were in the house already, while the father and 13-year-old daughter were bringing luggage from a Range Rover into the home. It was nearly 2 a.m. on Nov. 27, 2017 in Short Hills.

    Three men were nearby, perhaps waiting to take another Range Rover, which belonged to the older daughter and was parked at the house before the family pulled up. 

    "Give me your keys or I will kill your daughter," the voice said, as Ahmed Anthony, of Newark, grabbed the 13-year-old from behind and put her in a choke hold in front of her father.

    The state attorney general's office said Anthony, 30, pleaded guilty to carjacking and kidnapping on Tuesday in the incident that terrified a neighborhood where another high-profile carjacking occurred a few years earlier.

    "This defendant turned an armed carjacking into an even more terrifying experience for the targeted family by grabbing the 13-year-old daughter in a choke hold and threatening her life," Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement.

    "It is hard to imagine the fear that the 13-year-old victim felt when Anthony grabbed her by the neck," Division of Criminal Justice Director Victoria Allende said.

    As Anthony maintained the hold on the younger daughter, another man approached, pointing a handgun at her father. The father handed over his money and keys to the family Range Rover, and the second man drove away. 

    Ahmed-AnthonyA.JPGAhmed Anthony 

    Anthony then demanded keys to the older daughter's Range Rover, and the father went inside to get them, then handed them over to Anthony. He let go of the 13-year-old as Anthony tried to start the remaining SUV unsuccessfully.

    But Anthony would not get away with the second Range Rover.

    As he struggled with starting up the vehicle, the father grabbed a gun from inside, pointed it at Anthony and told him to get down on the ground. Anthony ran and climbed into a minivan driven by another man.

    The family Range Rover was tracked using a locator app and found abandoned in Newark.

    Anthony was arrested in January, while the other two men have not been identified or charged, a spokesman for the attorney general's office said.

    Under the plea deal reached Tuesday, the state will recommend a 14-year sentence with 12 years of parole ineligibility. Anthony is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 24 before Superior Court Judge Ronald D. Wigler.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    Authorities have not been able to track down the woman's family since she died earlier this month

    Police are seeking the public's help to locate the next to kin of a woman who died in Newark in early June.

    image003.jpgOlga Baszlak (police photo)

    Olga Baszlak, 61, died on June 1, police said. Her last known address was 624 Mt. Prospect Ave.

    Anyone with information about Baszlak's family is encouraged by police to contact Detective Bobby Bullock at 973-710-7356, or by email at bullockb@ci.newark.nj.us.

    Gianluca D'Elia may be reached at gdelia@njadvancemedia.comFollow him on Twitter @gianluca_delia. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    NJ Advance Media selects the Top 100 boys and girls individual seasons of the 2017-18 school year.


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    Quentin Morales was sentenced to more than 7 years in prison for the month-long crime spree

    A 27-year-old serial bank robber from Passaic was on Tuesday sentenced to 7 years, 8 months in prison.

    morales.jpgQuentin Morales (file photo) 

    Quentin Morales robbed five banks in Essex, Hudson and Union counties and attempted to rob a sixth over the span of a month in the summer of 2016, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. 

    Judge Peter G. Sheridan also ordered Morales to pay $9,217 in restitution. 

    Prosecutors said that Morales would give bank tellers notes demanding cash, and in at least two instances said he had a gun and urged tellers to hurry.

    During the robbery spree, which began on June 25, 2016, Morales was one of the bank robbers most wanted by the FBI's Newark Division, prosecutors said.

    Morales was arrested in Newark on Aug. 2, 2016 by officers of the state parole board and was convicted in February.

    He robbed Wells Fargo banks in Kearny, Kenilworth, Linden, Clifton and Union. Morales also tried to rob a Capital One in Elizabeth but was unsuccessful.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     


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    The judge sentenced the men to consecutive 51-year sentences for each of the killings.

    They came to the Maplewood apartment looking for drugs, but left three bodies in their wake.

    Now, Lavelle Davis and Jimmy Mays are set to spend more than a lifetime in state prison for the brutal January 2017 slayings that shocked the quiet Essex County suburb.

    Lavelle Davis and Jimmy MaysLavelle Davis (left) and Jimmy Mays. (Essex County Correctional Facilities)
     

    Superior Court Judge Richard T. Sules on Tuesday sentenced Mays to a total of 153 years and Davis to 138 years for the fatal shootings of Michael Davis, 43, of Maplewood; Roshana Kenilson, 30, of Paterson and Lance Frasier, 44, of Newark -- the men's sentences for each of the three murders will run consecutively.

    Firefighters discovered the trio's bodies at Davis' apartment, on Van Ness Court in the Gardens at Maplewood complex, on Jan. 29, 2017, after family members reported being unable to reach them.

    Davis lived in the apartment, Kenilson and Fraser were friends of Davis who were visiting, officials have said. 

    The Essex County Prosecutor's Office said Mays, Davis and an unidentified third suspect fatally shot Davis and Kenilson, who were in a relationship, before torturing and killing Frasier.

    Authorities have said Davis was acquainted with his killers.

    Investigators arrested Mays in Columbia, Maryland, two weeks later. Davis was arrested in Yonkers the day after authorities apprehended Mays.

    A jury in May convicted both men of murder, felony murder, robbery and other offenses.

    Addressing the three victims' family members, who packed the entire right side of Sules' Newark courtroom, the judge said that there was no sentence he could impose that would bring their loved ones back.

    Nontheless, Sules said each man had received a "just" sentence, noting assistant prosecutors Carlo Fioranelli and Sean Dickson had presented evidence that at least one of the victims had their face covered with a pillow before they were shot.

    Both Mays and Davis -- represented at trial by defense attorney Michael Robbins and state Public Defender Joseph Krakora, respectively -- had prior felony records that exposed them to potential life sentences for the Maplewood killings, the prosecutor's office said.

    Thomas Moriarty may be reached at tmoriarty@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ThomasDMoriarty.

    Find NJ.com on Facebook. Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips


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    We're investigating the booming substance abuse treatment industry in New Jersey, and we want to hear from you. Watch video

    We're looking for help in uncovering the successes and failures in the booming drug and alcohol treatment industry in New Jersey. 

    New Jersey has been gripped by the opioid crisis for more than a decade, a scourge that has already taken more than 10,000 lives in the Garden State. It's a crisis we detailed three years ago in Herointown, which revealed there were at least 128,000 people struggling with opioid addiction here. 

    The substance abuse treatment industry has blossomed as a result. More than 100 new treatment centers have opened in the past four years alone, a 33 percent increase. 

    We know there are tremendous stories of recovery out there. We also know there are horror stories of treatment centers taking advantage of desperate families yet providing no real service. Sometimes it's a mixed bag. We want to hear it all.  

    I'll start you with mine. 

    Four years ago, I entered myself into detox and then inpatient treatment in Connecticut after my life crumbled through extensive drug and alcohol use. I followed up with six months of intensive outpatient in New York, where I was living at the time, and supplemented by attending 12-step meetings. 

    The experience was generally good, albeit expensive. It gave me a baseline in recovery. I had private insurance that covered most of my expenses, and inpatient still cost thousands of dollars. At one point during outpatient, my insurance declined to cover two urine tests required by the facility. I was forced to pay the bill: $1,200.  

    I relapsed on opioids during my stint at outpatient, but fortunately had a solid recovery network by that point and have been sober since. My sobriety date is Oct. 17, 2014. 

    Since then, I've dedicated myself to covering addiction in this state.

    I've seen friends die days after being released from rehab. I've talked to people who became homeless after facing bills in excess of $100,000 from multiple rehab stays. I've watched desperate people get whisked away to Florida after calling a number they saw on a billboard, only to be put up in a motel masquerading as a treatment facility.   

    We want to investigate it all, good and bad, and we want your help. If you or a loved one has been through substance abuse treatment in New Jersey, please fill out our anonymous form below. If you have questions, feel free to shoot me an email at sstirling@njadvancemedia.com.

    Thank you. 

    Stephen Stirling
    Data reporter, NJ Advance Media

    If you have trouble viewing the form below, click here.

     


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    Newark residents have opposed a 12-story building set for the Ironbound section of the city

    A 12-story building will rise in the Ironbound section of Newark -- the first such development under a new, yet controversial measure that allows much taller buildings to sprout near Penn Station. 

    The Central Planning Board on Monday approved a 403-unit residential building with 3,300 square-feet of retail space along 28-50 McWhorter Street and 51-57 Union Street, despite some pushback from members of the community.

    The property is currently an unused surface parking lot, owned by Jose Lopez, president of J&L Companies. 

    "I grew up in the Ironbound and went to school and worked within three blocks of this property, so I feel an obligation to be respectful of the existing community," Lopez said in a statement prior to the approval of 55 Union. "The three blocks east of Newark Penn Station are underutilized and, given their prime location, logical areas to build a vibrant corridor of commercial and residential activity."

    But some neighbors and other residents say the project is just too big and would ruin the character of the surrounding area, mostly comprised of townhouses and lower buildings. 

    "It's way out of scale," said Anker West, an architectural designer at The Dietze Building, which sits across the proposed development. "It's much too large for the walkable fabric of the Ironbound ... there's no 400-unit building that I know of in the Ironbound, it's really killing the neighborhood quality."

    PLANewark, an association of local professionals advocating for sustainable development, has also mounted a legal challenge against the new MX3 ordinance that allows 12-story buildings in the area; 55 Union is the first project proposed under the measure. 

    The MX3 ordinance was approved by the City Council last year and increases the maximum building height in a six-block section of the Ironbound from eight stories to 12.

    PLANewark's lawsuit contends the ordinance is inconsistent with the city's master plan and that residents were not given proper notice of the zoning changes and were not allowed to comment on the measure during a public hearing. 

    The group says if the ordinance is overturned in court, the 403-unit building will be illegal.

    James Powell, a spokesman for PLANewark, said he was not against development but that such densities were out of scale for the area. 

    Lopez said he had met with the community and over the last year, redesigned parts of the project based on their feedback. He said the development was "thoughtful" and would "reflect the unique character of the neighborhood."

    "It's incumbent upon us to be mindful of the community and to make things better, but objectors will always exist, especially when you're the first to develop under a new zone," he said. 

    Seth A. Grossman, executive director and CEO of the Ironbound Business Improvement District, said the city needed to grow and attract more people.

    "This location has been one of the most troublesome locations in our district as far as negative urban issues, to have this development coming online, a good developer involved -- it's just great," he said. 

    The Ironbound section of Newark hosts the popular Portugal Day Festival every year and is well known beyond city limits for its dining options and Portuguese restaurants. 

    Grossman said the 12-story building would eventually be one of the smaller buildings in the area: The city council also agreed to boost building densities along the riverfront from 10 to 25 stories in some areas and from 30 to 40 stories in another. 

    Karen Yi may be reached at kyi@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter at @karen_yi or on Facebook


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    Inspector Anthony Cook's retirement comes just over a week after NJ Advance Media published interviews with seven officers

    A top cops in the East Orange Police Department mired in legal controversy over allegations of sexual misconduct and using discipline as payback against those who cross him has retired, city officials confirmed Tuesday. 

    "After serving the East Orange community for nearly 24 years, East Orange Police Inspector Tony Cook has retired, effective Friday, June 22, 2018," city spokeswoman Connie Jackson said in a statement, but would not say if the move was made in response to the lawsuits. 

    Cook's retirement comes just over a week after NJ Advance Media published interviews with seven officers, including two police captains, who are part of five lawsuits, all of which name the inspector, who is the second in command on the force.  

    Since the news outlet published the officers' accounts three others have come forward -- Capt. Richard McGowan, Lt. Raymond Garcia and former Lt. Shena Grimes -- with similar accusations, painting an even broader picture of Cook's alleged retaliatory practices.

    Grimes had filed her suit in 2015, accusing the top law enforcement officials of creating a culture in the department where quotas were expected to be met, those who took medical leave were targeted and she was discriminated against for being a woman.

    She also said her internal affairs complaints to now Chief Phyllis Bindi were ignored. 

    McGowan came to Grimes' defense and has been harassed in response, according to his attorney, Armen McOmber. Garcia has similar allegations, McOmber said. 

    McOmber -- who also represents the nine other officers whose lawsuits were detailed in an earlier article -- said McGowan and Garcia plan to file lawsuits within the next week when the specific details of their accusations will be made public. 

    "Quite simply, Cook should have been terminated long ago - not been allowed to retire," McOmber said in a statement when asked about the retirement.

    "This is unquestionably too little and too late. I am hopeful that further 'housecleaning' will be accomplished to move the department past this dark time and restore its operational readiness and credibility."

    Craig McCarthy may be reached at 732-372-2078 or at CMcCarthy@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @createcraig and on Facebook here. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    Prosecutors said Newark police officer Joseph Macchia's self-defense claim fell apart when it became clear that he triggered the fight, during which he used his weapon to shoot the victim 3 times. Watch video

    The surveillance video of a 2016 fistfight and fatal shooting in front of a Union Township bar isn't easy to watch. But the jurors who last week convicted former Newark Police Officer Joseph Macchia of reckless manslaughter in the shooting death of Michael Gaffney watched it dozens of times.

    gaffney-selfie.jpgMichael Gaffney, 37, of Piscataway, was shot to death May 13, 2016. (Facebook)
     

    Macchia, 36, and Michael Gaffney, 37, had both been drinking at Paddy's Place on May 13, 2016 when the two acquaintances got into a fist fight after exchanging words.

    They were separated and but Macchia followed Gaffney back to the bar and after a few minutes, they started to fight again. The video -- an edited version of which is included in this story -- shows that Macchia was on the ground when he drew his service weapon from his hip holster and shot Gaffney three times in the torso. Police arrived almost immediately after, but Gaffney died.

    The video was played repeatedly at trial while witnesses testified about the fight, but the jurors still asked to watch it an additional 22 times during their six days of deliberation, according to Union County Assistant Prosecutor John Esmerado.

    "It was very sad and completely preventable," Esmerado said of the incident. "I've watched that video over 100 times and I think the same thing every time."

    The prosecutor's office provided the video in response to a records request.

    Esmerado said Tuesday that the video was important at trial not only because it shows the moment of the shooting, but because it helps support the prosecution's theory that Macchia provoked the second flare-up of the fight.

    Macchia testified that he fired his gun in self-defense, so the prosecution had to prove that he instigated the final fight, making his self-defense claim legally invalid, Esmerado said. The jury agreed.

    The video supported witness testimony that after the first fight, Macchia followed Gaffney back to the bar door, and repeatedly shouted at Gaffney inside the bar, "I'm not done!" Eventually Gaffney came back to the door and the fight picked up again, Esmerado said. Throughout both fights, numerous people are seen trying to pull the two apart, including friends and staff of Paddy's Place.

    Macchia testified that he followed Gaffney back to the bar and spoke to him because he was trying to reconcile, Esmerado said. During deliberations, jurors asked to review his testimony at trial and from two grand jury proceedings, as well as his statements to police immediately after the shooting and in the following days. Esmerado said they contained "inconsistencies."

    Judy Valdes, Gaffney's mother, said that it was painful for her to be in court when the video was played, but she knew it would help convict her son's killer.

    "You can't help but see the evidence right there," she said in a phone interview Tuesday. "My son was unarmed. This was a fistfight that turned into a gunfight."

    Each time the video played in court, Valdes tried to step out of the room or put her head down, but she said she wasn't able to miss the fatal moment every time.

    "They kept bringing it back, and to sit there and watch my child die," she said. "No mother should have to go through this."

    Gaffney had a 13-year-old daughter and had recently purchased a home in Piscataway with his girlfriend when he died. Valdes said she was very close with her son.

    "He would call me every day to say, 'I love you,'" she said. "I would say, 'I love you more,' and every time he'd say, 'Impossible.'"

    She said she is grateful to Esmerado and the prosecutor's office for their work on the case. After Macchia is sentenced July 27, she hopes to throw herself into work to pass Gaffney's Law.

    In the hopes of preventing more deaths like Gaffney's, Valdes and her loved ones are pressing lawmakers to propose legislation to make it a crime for law enforcement officers to carry firearms when they're drinking.

    Macchia's blood alcohol content after the shooting was 0.13, according to the prosecutor's office.

    After the verdict, Acting Union County Prosecutor Michael A. Monahan called the case a "prime example of the tragic and senseless consequences that often arise when alcohol and firearms align."

    Immediately after the shooting in 2016, Newark Fraternal Order of Police President James Stewart Jr. said he believed the surveillance video would show Macchia was justified in shooting Gaffney.

    "Obviously, the jury didn't see it that way," Stewart said Tuesday. He said it appeared to him the Macchia was being violently attacked by Gaffney and "Joe was doing what he had to do to protect himself."

    Stewart said the FOP respects the jury's decision and continues to support Macchia and his family.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

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    NJ lawmakers want the state to stop investing in a company that may have declared a subsidiary's bankruptcy to avoid responsibility for cleanup of a major Superfund site.

    The Passaic River in Newark remains a mess, so toxic from industrial dumping that people are forbidden from eating the fish and crabs they catch there, and the water is still years away from being cleaned up.

    The cleanup is expected to cost billions, and federal law mandates that the polluters foot the bill. But when one of the Passaic's major polluters declared bankruptcy, state lawmakers called the move an intentional effort to dodge its responsibilities in the river.

    Those lawmakers found that despite the bankruptcy declaration, New Jersey's state pension continued to invest millions of dollars into the polluter's parent company.

    Now a bill that would put an end to such investments is headed to Gov. Phil Murphy's desk.

    Lawmakers urge probe of company trying to skirt $1.38B Passaic River cleanup

    Two bipartisan bills introduced in January, S1208 in the Senate and A997 in the Assembly, prohibit the state pension from investing in companies that declare bankruptcy as a possible way to evade Superfund cleanup and companies that hold substantial shares in those companies.

    "We should not be supporting with our precious pension dollars companies which have ravaged our state and caused irreparable harm," said Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-Passaic,) a primary sponsor of the Assembly bill. He described the legislation as "a good government bill."

    Under the proposed law, the state would have 180 days from the effective date to identify investments that are out of compliance and three years to fully divest from those companies.

    That bill unanimously cleared the Senate in February and was approved by the Assembly on Monday.

    "We can't allow companies to walk away from environmental disasters and continue to benefit from investment by the state," said Assemblyman Kevin Rooney (R-Bergen), another sponsor of the bill, in a press release after the Assembly vote. "We will hold these irresponsible corporations accountable for poisoning our environment. The message is clear. They can't poison the ground and water and walk away without consequences."

    The bill is now in Gov. Murphy's hands. A spokeswoman for Murphy declined to comment.

    The proposed legislation is targeted at YPF S.A., Argentina's state-owned oil company.

    YPF is the parent company of Maxus Energy, a company that is liable in the pollution of the Passaic River. New Jersey's state pension currently holds about $18 million worth of YPF shares, and that investment has come under fire after Maxus effectively bailed on its financial responsibilities to the river's cleanup by declaring bankruptcy in 2016.

    YPF did not respond to requests for comment.

    How we got here

    The Diamond Alkali site, located at the site of a former chemical plant on Lister Avenue in Newark, is the largest Superfund site in the nation. The EPA found high levels of dioxin at the site in 1983, and it was placed on the superfund list in 1984 after decades of industrial dumping into the river. That dumping included, among many other things, Diamond Alkali pouring chemicals leftover from Agent Orange production into the river.

    Diamond Alkali eventually became Maxus Energy Corporation, and was acquired by YPF S.A., Argentina's state-owned oil company, in 1995.

    In March 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that the cleanup of the Passaic River will cost $1.38 billion. That bill, under Superfund law, is to be paid by the parties responsible for the pollution, like Maxus. Almost 100 parties are listed by the EPA as potentially responsible for soiling the site.

    Just after that announcement, June 2016, Maxus declared bankruptcy despite parent company YPF remaining profitable. That meant that the remaining potentially responsible parties for the site, and potentially taxpayers, would have to cover the Maxus share.

    Garden State lawmakers immediately cried foul. In Washington, Senators Cory Booker and Robert Menendez demanded a meeting with Argentina's ambassador to the U.S. to discuss the bankruptcy. In a bipartisan resolution in February 2017, state Senators Bob Smith and Christopher "Kip" Bateman urged state and federal agencies to investigate Maxus's bankruptcy.

    Through all of this, New Jersey's state pension fund has invested in YPF. Specifically, the pension fund owns 860,000 shares of YPF, a roughly $18 million value. That's a small fraction of the pension's $76.76 billion portfolio, but state lawmakers still expressed outrage.

    That anger propelled the new proposal to Gov. Murphy's desk. This would not be the first time that lawmakers have guided the state pension fund in an activist manner. The state currently have prohibitions on investing in foreign companies that do business with Iran (because of Iran's threatening rhetoric towards Israel) and Sudan (because of the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.)

    Michael Sol Warren may be reached at mwarren@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MSolDub. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    The crush of commuters on PATH is so bad, riders can't get on board packed trains when they arrive in stations. PATH is buying more trains to help.

    Some relief from chronic overcrowding on PATH trains could come from plans to buy 22 new rail cars for $66 million, allowing the agency to run more trains and ease the crush riders now endure.

    Among complaints from riders during a month of delays is overcrowding that is so bad, commuters can't board trains that arrive in stations because they are packed to the doors with people.

    A vote to buy the new cars is scheduled to be taken Thursday by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey board commissioners. They're not cheap. Each car is estimated to cost $2.38 million.

    The PATH system is groaning under the weight of record ridership set three times this decade and more new riders coming from residential development built in Jersey City, Harrison, Hoboken and Newark.

    Last year, PATH ridership topped 80 million for the first time in 55 years, PATH also plans to extend the Newark World Trade Center line to Newark Airport. Riders worry that PATH is packing 10 pounds of commuters in a five-pound bag. 

    Buying 22 more rail cars would allow PATH to increase capacity on the Newark to World Trade Center line by roughly 13 percent during peak commuting times as early as 2022, PATH documents said.

    The combination of a new communications-based signal system going in service next year, a 50-rail car purchase approved in 2017, and the proposed 22 new trains would increase capacity by 23 percent, PATH officials projected.

    Earlier this month, PATH officials said they were considering adding a car to eight-car-trains to move more people. The new cars also would allow PATH to send 10-year-old cars out to be rebuilt to increase reliability and reduce the annoying delays due to "car equipment" issues. 

    Larry Higgs may be reached at lhiggs@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @commutinglarry. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Gov. Phil Murphy and New Jersey state lawmakers are stuck in an impasse over the state budget with Saturday's deadline fast approaching.

    With Saturday's deadline -- and a possible state government shutdown -- fast approaching, Gov. Phil Murphy said he's called a meeting with fellow Democrats who control the New Jersey Legislature on Wednesday afternoon in another attempt to break a heated stalemate over the state budget.

    "Honestly, if people come with goodwill on all sides -- and I have no reason to believe there isn't -- I think we can solve this in 30 minutes," Murphy said during a morning news conference at Newark city hall.

    The sit-down will come about 24 hours after Murphy offered lawmakers a compromise to end their disagreement over which taxes to raise to balance the budget. His proposal would raise the state's sales, income, and business taxes.

    Legislative leaders are expected to present Murphy with a counterproposal in Wednesday's meeting, two sources told NJ Advance Media. 

    The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter in public. 

    Murphy said Wednesday he believes his compromise is "reasonable" and it would "protect" millions of dollars in aid and programs he has threatened to cut from the budget the Legislature passed last week if an agreement isn't brokered.

    Phil Murphy offers tax hike deal to break N.J. budget impasse

    But Murphy said he's willing to listen to lawmakers' counteroffers if they're "reasonable and real."

    If Murphy and lawmakers don't reach a deal by midnight Saturday, a few things could happen. Murphy could order the second state government shutdown in two years until the sides come to an agreement. 

    He could also veto the budget that the Legislature passed last week or line-item veto out $855 million in spending.

    "We still have time to get this done," Murphy said Wednesday. 

    Murphy said if he does end up gutting the budget, it's because lawmakers "forced us to" and because they "sided with millionaires."

    "One side wants to make a historic investment in the middle class, urban communities, working families, to do it in a way that resets tax fairness and asks the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share and close corporate loopholes and undo gimmicks," he said.

    "The other side is going to stand either on behalf of cutting 800-plus million of dollars desperately needed investments or standing to allow the state to shut down because they're protecting millionaires," the governor added.

    Murphy and Democratic leaders of the Legislature disagree over tax hikes that anchor new spending in the budget. 

    The governor wants to raise more than $1.5 billion from a millionaires tax and reverting the state sales tax to 7 percent from 6.625 percent, to pay for funding increases to education, transportation, and more.

    But top lawmakers don't want to tax people. Instead, they passed a budget that includes raising taxes on the state's largest corporations to 13 percent -- the highest of any state -- for two years.

    On Tuesday, Murphy offered to merge his and the Legislature's budget plans to include a more modest increase in the Corporation Business Tax, a smaller increase on personal income over $1 million and a two-year phase in of a sales tax hike.

    State Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, and state Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-Middlesex, said in a joint statement Tuesday that they were "reviewing" Murphy's proposal and "will give his offer full consideration, along with other options we are evaluating."

    Murphy said Wednesday he'd be open to the business tax if it was "more modest" and lasted were a longer period of time.

    "If we can get the economy going, that would be an ideal result," Murphy said. "A longer-dated, reasonable increase, and then if we get the momentum, we think we can get to say with conviction to the business community, 'We might be able to get this sucker down below even where it is today.'"

    Murphy is still not backing down from a millionaires tax but said he'd be willing to "entertain" changes "if folks have a reasonable, credible response."

    "We've got an obvious solution here that overwhelmingly is supported," Murphy said of the tax, which polling shows is popular with New Jerseyans. "If we got a millionaire's tax, a lot of these other issues fall into line and it can be worked out. The stuff at the margin is work-out-able."

    A few lawmakers who voted for the Legislature's budget last week have now appeared alongside Murphy in recent days. On Wednesday, it was Assemblyman Ralph Caputo, D-Essex.

    "A good deal is better than a bad war," Caputo said. "And the fact is: The governor has offered a compromise, and hopefully the other people that disagree understand that we're trying to resolve the situation."

    NJ Advance Media staff writer Samantha Marcus contributed to this report.

    Matt Arco may be reached at marco@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewArco or Facebook.

    Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01.


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    "Where liberty dwells, there is my country" - Benjamin Franklin

    "America is a tune. It must be sung together." - writer Gerald Stanley Lee

    "Where liberty dwells, there is my country" - Benjamin Franklin

    "This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave." -- reporter Elmer Davis

    "We must be free not because we claim freedom, but because we practice it." - writer William Faulkner

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    "Those who won our independence believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty." - Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis

    "I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him." - President Abraham Lincoln

    Freedom is the atmosphere in which humanity thrives. Breathe it in." - writer Richelle E. Goodrich

    More patriotic gallery links:

    Vintage photos of patriotic people in N.J.

    Vintage photos of how NJ celebrated the nation's Bicentennial

    Vintage photos of patriotic pride in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at ghatala@starledger.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    Weather forecasters say temperatures across New Jersey will be soaring into the 90s and humidity levels will be getting worse during the next few days.

    Get those air conditioners tuned up. The first widespread heat wave of the year is on the way, and people all across New Jersey will be noticing the humidity levels creeping up as the long Fourth of July holiday "weekend" approaches.

    "It's not going to be so much the high temperature but the humidity" that will make people feel uncomfortable outside, said Alex Staarmann, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's regional forecast office in New Jersey.

    In most inland areas, the thermometer is expected to reach the low 90s on Friday before rising into the mid-90s on Saturday and Sunday. Although that probably won't be hot enough to break any daily temperature records, the air will be saturated, making it feel like it's between 100 and 105 degrees away from the coast.

    nj-weather-heat-wave-june-2018.jpg 

    In the Newark region and in other northeastern sections of New Jersey, the mercury could make a run for triple digits on Sunday, said David Stark, a meteorologist at the weather service office in Upton, N.Y., which covers Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Passaic and Union counties.

    "It's not a guarantee, but it's possible that the actual temperature touches 100 in Newark on Sunday," Stark said. For now, the weather service is projecting a high of 99 degrees in Newark. 

    Even if that forecast falls short by a few degrees, the humidity will make it feel as hot as 104 to 107 degrees in much of northeastern New Jersey on Sunday, Stark noted.

    Relief at the beach

    A good option for relief will be along the Jersey Shore, where temperatures will be hovering in the low to mid-80s this weekend. 

    "It will be a little cooler at the beaches, but it will still be humid," Staarmann noted.

    Don't expect much cloud cover to block the blazing hot sun this weekend. Mostly clear skies are forecast for Friday, Saturday and Sunday both inland and along the Shore.

    The early long-range forecast calls for a mix of sun and clouds on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday -- when Independence Day is being celebrated -- with a 30 percent to 40 percent chance of showers or thunderstorms those three days.

    Temperatures in interior sections of New Jersey could remain at or near 90 on Monday and Tuesday before retreating to the upper 80s on Wednesday.

    Heat wave No. 2 

    For a few areas of New Jersey, including Newark, the approaching heat wave will be the second one of the year. But for most parts of the state, this will be the first one, with three straight days of 90-degree temperatures expected. 

    Newark's first heat wave of 2018 was recorded on June 17, June 18 and June 19, when temperatures reached 91 degrees, 96 degrees and 90 degrees.

    Len Melisurgo may be reached at LMelisurgo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @LensReality or like him on Facebook. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    The average residential property tax bill for schools is more than $9,000 in each of these towns. See if yours made the list.


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