TRENTON - (AP) - The final day of New Jersey's legislative session ended in tragedy when the Assembly's top Republican leader collapsed and died in the Statehouse.
Alex DeCroce's death occurred around 11 p.m. Monday, as lawmakers in the Assembly and state Senate were completing what had been a long day of meetings and votes. He collapsed in a men's room and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Lawmakers had dealt with dozens of bills during the day.
Legislators voted to give school districts the option to move board elections to November and pass some budgets without voter approval, and passed a measure that could make it easier for developers to build in environmentally sensitive areas.
They also approved a measure that will legalize sports betting - if a federal ban can be overturned - and another bill that sets up a pilot program in which patrons at up to 12 bars or restaurants could place bets on horse races.
Lawmakers also passed a bill that would provide an education alternative for children in three under-performing public school districts. And a measure that would end the state's waiting period for couples looking to wed was approved in the state senate late Monday night - several hours after it passed the Assembly - and now heads to Gov. Chris Christie's desk.
Legislators put on hold bills to let all levels of government publish their legal notices online instead of in newspapers and to allow commercial lumberjacks to cut and sell trees from New Jersey's state-owned forests.
Here is a summary of action taken on bills on the agenda on the final day of the session:
A bill giving districts the option to move their school boardelections to November and letting school boards skip voter approvalof budgets if the tax increase does not exceed a 2 percent cap.
Proponents said moving elections to the date of the general election will assure greater voter turnout and save on election costs.
Legislation that provides an education alternative for childrenin three under-performing public school districts.
The "Urban Hope Act" allows nonprofit groups to build, manage and operate alternative or renaissance schools in the failing districts of Newark, Trenton and Camden. Approved nonprofits could use state funds to help pay their lease, mortgage or debt service for the land or building. A nonprofit running an alternative school would receive 95 percent of the per pupil cost from the district.
A law allowing New Jerseyans to bet on professional and collegesports games at Atlantic City casinos and the state's four horsetracks.
Governor Christie has indicated he supports the bill. But evenif it passes, New Jersey would still have to launch a battle infederal court to overturn a federal ban on sports betting in allbut four states.
Lawmakers approved a bill allowing horse racing fans to placebets from in to 12 bars or restaurants in northern and centralJersey, and also pressured businesses planning to build off-trackbetting parlors to get it done within a year or get out of thebusiness.
The state has authorized 15 off-track betting locations, butonly three have been built. Racing industry executives blame theuncertainty surrounding their sport in New Jersey, includingongoing efforts to find a private operator for Monmouth Park, andthe end of annual casino subsidies to the tracks.
Legislation that ends the 72-hour waiting period for New Jerseycouples looking to wed and streamlines residency requirements. Proponents say the law is antiquated - it dates back to 1934 -and getting rid of it will give New Jersey a competitive edge inthe wedding tourism market.
A measure that environmentalists say will make it easier fordevelopers to build in environmentally sensitive areas.
It will keep sewer service approvals in place for the next twoyears. It also prohibits governments from protecting land alreadyeligible for development by removing it from the areas approved forsewer service. The sewer boundaries are important because theydetermine where large-scale development can take place.
Environmentalists had mounted strong opposition, saying the billwill increase water pollution in spots like the fragile BarnegatBay and other waterways across the state. Proponents say theprovisions will help the state come out of a sluggish economy bycreating construction jobs.
TRAIN STATION PARKING
Legislation allowing the general public to park at New JerseyTransit stations, on nights and weekends, in spaces reserved forpermit-holders.
Proponents say the change will alleviate chronic parkingshortages that have been experienced during off-peak hours. Thosetimes are defined as 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. Monday through Friday and allday during weekends and holidays.
PUT ON HOLD
LEGAL NOTICESA long-stalled bill letting governments post legal notices ontheir websites rather than in newspapers. The bill was scheduledfor a vote on the last day of New Jersey's legislative session butwas pulled late Monday.
Newspapers ran a full-page open letter from the industry's tradegroup, the New Jersey Press Association, arguing the change wouldmake government less transparent. Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver,D-Essex, had said she favored moving ahead with the legislationbecause it gave towns a chance to save money. But she now plans totake "another look at it" in the new legislative session.Newspapers argued that handling the notices internally would createother governmental costs and not be a money-saver for taxpayers.
LOGGING IN STATE FORESTS A measure that would have allowed commercial lumberjacks to cutand sell trees from New Jersey's state-owned forests.Proponents saythe program would have helped the state bring 800,000 acres offorest back to health by removing trees and allowing sunlight tofeed new growth. They say that would have created new habitats andreduced the risk of fires. But environmental groups maintained thebill did little to address what they say is a major problem: thetrouble caused by deer that eat most new plants in the forests.
The bill was pulled from the legislative agenda on Monday; itwill now have to be reintroduced in the new session in order for itto advance.