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Referendum question to be asked on 2014 ballot

Referendum Question #1: Setting Bail

The first referendum question on the ballot amends the New Jersey state constitution to create a new legal procedure: the ability for judges to refuse to set bail for a person awaiting trial.

Currently, judges can set a high bail price, but not refuse it, said John Weingart, associate director of the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics. This law would give judges more discretion in when bail would be appropriate or inappropriate. 

“When someone is charged with a crime … often, wealthy defendants can meet bail but the poorer cannot,” he said. 

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey estimates that more than 10,000 people stay in jail at any give day because they cannot afford bail, according to an editorial in The Times of Trenton. 

The amendment would also allow judges to determine whether someone is a flight risk, is likely to intimidate witnesses or is likely to demonstrate “antisocial behavior” before the trial. 

The legislature passed a law that would allow judges to have more discretion on whether to release someone earlier than their original sentence. But the law will only go into effect if this referendum passes, Weingart said. 

“Judges can be more lenient in some cases and be stricter in others,” he said. 

A Fairleigh-Dickenson poll in mid-October found that while only 29 percent of voters knew about the referendum, 77 percent supported it when told about it, according to NorthJersey.com

The likelihood of the referendum passing depends in part on voter turnout, Weingart said. 

“Regardless somewhat of substance, they tend to say no,” Weingart said. “And the impulse is to say no to something if you don’t understand it.”

Referendum Question #2: Preservation

The other referendum question on the ballot this year, is a proposal to use part of the state’s corporate business tax to pay for the preservation of open spaces, like state parks, forests, historic sites and wildlife management areas, according to nj.com.

Usually, New Jerseyans are in favor of using government money to buy open spaces in order to stop these spaces from being developed, said David Redlawsk, director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling.

“That’s one of those issues where in New Jersey, Republicans and Democrats don’t differ very much in the state,” he said.

Gov. Chris Christie is opposed to this particular referendum because it may take existing money away from other uses as opposed to raising extra funds just for this cause, Redlawsk said.

“Opponents argue that the money will be taken away from other environmental issues, like pollution cleanups,” he said. “Supporters say we need it, and that wouldn’t happen.”

If Redlawsk had to guess, this referendum will pass even though it does not have the same broad-based support that referendums usually do.

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