New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was bullish about his budget plan in early 2014, predicting the state's toughest financial decision would be how to spend a projected $300 million surplus. Instead, New Jersey had a brutal fiscal year between a nearly $1.6 billion budget shortfall and the partial collapse of Atlantic City's casino market, increasing the likelihood that when the Legislature returns in 2015, bills designed to ease the state's financial strain will take priority, experts said.

Here are some of the key issues that attorneys expect will grab attention in New Jersey's legislative and regulatory bodies in 2015.

Paid Sick Leave

In early 2013, mandatory paid sick leave for New Jersey workers was an idle conversation among lawmakers, memorialized in bills that stalled out in committee. By the end of 2014, it had become a municipal movement, with Trenton, Newark, Jersey City, Paterson, Passaic, Irvington, Montclair and East Orange approving paid sick leave ordinances, often in landslide votes.

The municipal momentum has jolted a legislative effort to expand paid sick leave across the state. Two Assembly committees have advanced A2354, a measure sponsored by eight Democratic Assembly members that would require employers to allow workers to accrue at least up to 40 hours of earned sick time and as much as 72 hours.

Suflas told Law360 that he's fielded questions from clients about the bill, reflecting a resistance to the bill that has intensified among the business community and Republican lawmakers alike. Given New Jersey's existing reputation for tax tyranny, Suflas said the legislation could solidify perceptions of an anti-corporate climate in New Jersey, weakening the state's ability to attract and retain businesses.

"I don't know that this bill in and of itself will be the reason to leave New Jersey or not come, but it's a piece of a larger mosaic, and the question becomes, is New Jersey a place businesses want to come to?" said Suflas. "To the extent that you have legislation that adds to the cost of doing business, that's a disincentive."

A2354 was passed over by the Assembly Labor Committee when Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, D-Camden, introduced an earlier version in May 2013, likely due to the conventional wisdom that Christie would never endorse such a measure. Suflas said that narrative could change in 2015 as Christie considers a run for national office. The runup to a Christie presidential ticket could necessitate a shift toward more centrist positions, a strategy that would be well-served by Christie's signature on worker-friendly legislation.

"Even for a Republican governor, workplace legislation is always popular with voters, because most voters are employees, not supervisors or business owners," said Suflas. "So it could be a close call, and it could depend upon what the governor's national plans are, and that makes it a political issue more than a legal one."

Related Practice

Labor and Employment