STATEHOUSE UPDATE

Linda Doherty is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey Food Council, a policy advocacy organization representing the interests of retailers and suppliers. She can be reached at ldoherty@njfoodcouncil.com.

2019 will be remembered as a special milestone for NJFC as the association celebrated our 50th anniversary at the Park Chateau in East Brunswick. The reception and reunion were a spirited affair as members were treated to a video production of our history, we welcomed former board members and chairs, enjoyed entertainment from 1969, feasted on a delicious menu, extended friendships and created new memories. The event sponsorships exceeded our expectations and it allowed 100 percent of ticket sales to be donated directly to our Educational Scholarship Fund. We raised more than $25,000 for this fund.

In other areas, NJFC had a hectic year advocating on behalf of the membership as a divided Democratic majority in Trenton is keeping us up at night. Here are some NJFC highlights.

NJFC has been advocating for uniform statewide legislation to phase out single use disposable plastic and paper bags, and encourage the use of reusable bags in New Jersey. Additionally, NJFC and the NJ Clean Communities Council are partnering on a new initiative, the Choose to Reuse Campaign, to reduce single use plastic and paper bags, and encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags. The Choose to Reuse Campaign will educate and remind consumers that they can choose to bring their own reusable bags when they shop, reduce their consumption of disposable bags, and recycle their plastic bags.

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After months of advocacy, we are pleased that the fiscal year 2020 budget does not include tax increases proposed by the governor, including the “millionaire’s tax” on high earners and the “corporate responsibility fee,” a $150 per employee tax on employers whose employees utilize Medicaid. NJFC formed and led a coalition of business trade groups in opposition to this tax increase, meeting with numerous legislators to educate them on the significant and detrimental impact of this proposed tax, which would have fallen disproportionately on our industry and members if it had been enacted.

The NJFC energy aggregation group completed an electricity supply procurement process that will reduce participating members’ annual electricity supply costs by 3.6 percent, provide budget certainty, and eliminate price risk for the next two years. NJFC retailers completed a six-month procurement process by selecting the lowest price offers from three of the state’s largest electricity suppliers.

NJFC hosted a store tour with assembly agriculture committee chairman Eric Houghtaling (D-11) and committee member Assemblyman Ron Dancer (R-12) at the new Saker ShopRite in Shrewsbury, NJ. Members discussed food policy and several legislative initiatives, including disposable bag legislation, SNAP issues, and food waste recycling practices.

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The second tour featured New Jersey acting director of consumer affairs Paul Rodriguez hosted by Kings Supermarkets. We had a lengthy tour highlighting the challenges of uneven enforcement and the need to modernize unit pricing standards.

NJFC was awarded more than $219,000 to support the Food Safety and Management Leadership series training programs. The grant, administered by Rutgers University and funded by the State Department of Labor and Workforce Development, will pay for one year of training. This year’s program will include training in proper food safety protocol, increasing energy efficiency, and customized soft skills, such as performance management, effective communication, and team building.

We sold 30 West Lafayette Street, the NJFC headquarters for the last 36 years, and leased new, modern offices off Rt. 29 in Trenton. Now, committee meetings and events will be held at the new headquarters.

 

ON THE HORIZON

During the January annual membership meeting, Richard Saker will complete his term as chair after serving three one-year terms. The new leadership team to be sworn in includes Joe Sofia of Wegmans Food Markets as chair, Andrew Kent of Glass Gardens as vice chair and Suzanne DelVecchio of QuickChek Corporation as secretary.

January 13 is the last day of the legislative lame duck session when all order of business is concluded by the current seated Legislature. The 219th legislature will swear in the newly seated general assembly and start the next two-year cycle on January 15. All new bills will be pre-filed and the legislative process starts again.

The administration’s draft energy master plan outlines strategies for the state to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2050, defined as 100 percent carbon neutral electricity generation and maximum electrification of the transportation and building sectors. Many of the proposed initiatives will have an impact on NJFC members, as the energy load of a supermarket and major convenience store is significant. NJFC understands the importance of reliable and diverse energy sources, however, we are concerned about the potential impact of the draft plan on electric generation costs.

NJFC is raising concerns about new legislation that requires employers to provide their employees with advance notice of their work schedules, and imposes various restrictions and regulations pertaining to scheduling practices and policies. Scheduling mandates create unintended consequences for both employers and employees. Flexible scheduling is critical to the food retail and distribution industry.

We continue to relay our significant concerns with legislation which bans or severely restricts the sale of various tobacco and vaping products, including legislation which bans the sale of menthol cigarettes, legislation which prohibits the sale of vaping products by all retailers that are not licensed vape shops, and legislation which prohibits the sale of tobacco products at pharmacies, which includes grocery stores with pharmacies.

In partnership with the New Jersey Office of Weights and Measures, NJFC will host a winter session with state officials to review compliance procedures and implementation of new regulations found in Handbook 130. The date will be announced soon. Stay tuned.