N.J. Republicans won't support attempt to override veto of Sandy bill

Senate Republicans won't support an effort by Democrats to override Gov. Christie's conditional veto of Hurricane Sandy "Bill of Rights" legislation, saying it violates federal regulations and "could harm the very people it intends to help."

"We all want to see displaced residents return home, and we want to see the shore neighborhoods rebuilt stronger than before. We want our federal, state and local governments to do a better job serving Sandy victims who have been suffering for too long," Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean Jr. (R., Union) wrote Thursday on behalf of his caucus in a letter to Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester), the bill's sponsor.

But, Kean added, Republicans do not believe Sweeney's bill will "achieve these worthy goals if enacted in its current form." A copy of the letter was obtained by The Inquirer.

"This is the height of hypocrisy," Sweeney said in a statement Thursday night. "The Republican members of the Legislature are so scared of doing anything in opposition of this governor that they won't even support getting basic answers and information to people who've lost their homes."

The bill has been one of Sweeney's top priorities this year, as he has traversed the state bashing the Christie administration's handling of New Jersey's recovery from Sandy. Sweeney says the legislation would help storm victims who still await government aid more than 18 months after Sandy battered the Jersey Shore.

The legislation would grant Sandy victims various rights in the recovery process and require the state to create a searchable system for residents to track their applications for recovery aid, among other provisions.

Christie sent revisions to the Legislature earlier this month, saying parts of the bill violated federal law. Sweeney says he will try to override the veto, which he is scheduled to discuss at a news conference Friday in Sea Bright.

A two-thirds majority in both the Senate and Assembly is needed to override a veto. Democrats control the Assembly, 48-32, and Senate, 24-16, but would need Republican votes to override the veto.

Specifically, Kean questioned a provision in the bill that would automatically approve applications if the state does not render a decision within 50 days. Such a procedure would violate federal Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations, Kean said.

"Putting the state and Sandy victims at odds with HUD will result in further delays and confusion," he wrote. He also said prioritizing Spanish-speaking applicants would raise equal-protection and discrimination concerns.

Sweeney noted that Republicans supported the bill in March, when it passed unanimously in both houses.

"There was nothing wrong with this bill when they all voted for it in March, and now, suddenly, they all oppose the exact same bill," he said.