December 3, 1999
Battleship bill pulled from Assembly committee agenda
By DEBORAH YAFFE
Gannett State Bureau
A bill that opponents claimed was designed to bolster Bayonne's bid for the Battleship New Jersey was pulled from an Assembly committee's agenda without a vote Thursday.
Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina, R-Monmouth, who chairs the Commerce, Tourism, Gaming and Military and Veterans' Affairs Committee, said the bill will not be considered again until after the Navy decides whether to berth the floating museum in Bayonne or in Camden. The Navy has said it will announce a decision in January.
But Azzolina, who chairs the USS New Jersey Battleship Commission, which has recommended berthing the ship in Bayonne, denied that the bill was an attempt to influence the vigorous north-vs.-south debate.
"This bill had nothing to do with where the ship goes," Azzolina said. "It had nothing to do with interfering with the Navy's decision."
The bill, co-sponsored by Assemblymen Guy R. Gregg, R-Morris, and Guy F. Talarico, R-Bergen, gives the battleship commission the right to operate the berthing site. Its last, controversial paragraph reads, "The selection and designation of any site for the berthing of the USS New Jersey made prior to the effective date of this act is hereby ratified and confirmed."
A version of the bill that passed a Senate committee in June was amended to say only that "the right of the commission to make a recommendation" on the berthing site was "ratified and confirmed."
"I am questioning the legislative intent," Assemblyman George F. Geist, R-Camden, a member of the Commerce Committee, said shortly before Thursday's meeting. "Some could perceive this as a legislative action of support for Chairman Azzolina's favorite site."
Geist, who supports Camden's bid for the ship, noted that the committee meeting came a day before the Navy's deadline for the two sites to submit final documentation supplementing their proposals. "Is this legislation to send a message to Washington of a legislative preference, of respect for the recommendation of the Battleship Commission?" Geist said.
In May, Assembly Speaker Jack Collins, R-Salem, said he would not post the bill for a vote in the full Assembly. Collins wants Camden to host the battleship, but he said the Legislature should stay out of the regional tussle.
Although Azzolina's announcement that he was pulling the bill came after a 10-minute, closed-door caucus of committee members, he said he had decided to do so before the meeting convened. The political wrangling threatened to overshadow the recent joyous celebration of the ship's return to Philadelphia, he said.