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N.J. lawmakers to Obama: Let's work together

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 At the start of President Obama's seventh and final State of the Union address, he talked about the need to overhaul criminal justice laws.

Obama mentioned criminal justice less than 120 words into his address, and then near the end mentioned "the American who served his time" and wanted to start over, and the employer "who gives him that second chance."

In addition, one of the guests sitting with First Lady Michelle Obama was the co-founder of an Arizona nonprofit organization that helped former inmates re-enter society.

Criminal justice is one issue that members of the New Jersey delegation said Tuesday that could be an area of common ground between the Democratic president and Republican Congress this year.

 

In Newark, Obama pushes for criminal justice reform

In Newark, Obama pushes for criminal justice reform

President Obama came to Newark to discuss ways of successfully returning ex-prisoners to society

 

Efforts to reduce mandatory sentences and provide alternatives to incarceration have been a top priority of U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) in his first term in Washington, and Obama has embraced the bipartisan effort that also has included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

"He's been putting his shoulder into it," Booker said in an interview. "A lot of people are pushing to get something done before the presidential election." 

Booker, a former Newark mayor, accompanied Obama to the city last year to discuss the criminal justice system.

U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7th Dist.) said changing the tax code could be another issue that Obama and congressional Republicans could work together one. The goal is to cut specific tax breaks and use the added revenue to reduce rates.

"I hope we are able to work together," Lance said in an interview after the speech. "I hope the president will meet us halfway." 

Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1st Dist.) called for bipartisan efforts to renew the Voting Rights Act, a crucial part of which was struck down by the five Republican appointees to the U.S. Supreme Court; and increased funding for clean energy and research into cures for diseases.

"Working together across party lines, I believe we can tackle big issues, strengthen our democracy, and improve life for all Americans," he said.

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th Dist.) also mentioned clean energy, as well as gun violence and substance abuse as issues demanding support from lawmakers of both parties.

"There is no shortage of issues that this Congress can address immediately and, with the important challenges facing our country, inaction is not an option," he said. "Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas. I look forward to continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the coming year to address the priorities of the American people."

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) also spoke of bipartisanship.

"Despite the challenges ahead, America's spirit should be infused with optimism," he said. "We cannot allow those fanning the flames of fear to dictate our policies, stunt our progress and undermine our principles. Let's reach across the aisle and find common ground to improve the lives of Americans."

Here's what other New Jersey lawmakers had to say about the State of the Union address:

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2nd Dist.): President Obama is clearly focused on his legacy rather than finding solutions for problems still facing our families or protecting our nation's security. Throughout his presidency, Barack Obama has preferred to go-it-alone on major policy decisions rather than genuinely engage of members of Congress of both parties to work together on mutually-agreeable solutions."

Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-3rd Dist.): "Frankly, the people of South Jersey don't want to hear about President Obama's legacy; they deserve to hear concrete plans to keep their families safe and secure. If he refuses to act, then Congress should.  I am committed to protecting our great nation and the brave men and women who defend it."

Rep. Chris Smith (R-4th Dist.): "It was a lot of niceties. Where's the leadership, the real leadership?"

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-5th Dist.): "We must work hard to unleash the American spirit so everyone can pursue their dreams. That means meaningful reforms that reduce regulatory burden, fix the broken tax code, and rein in the national debt. These are solutions that will empower Main Streets in New Jersey, not bureaucracies in Washington."

Rep. Albio Sires (D-8th Dist.): The president focused on our nation's future being built on the American spirit of innovation, discussing initiatives to push for advances in medical breakthroughs to cure cancer and to accelerate expansions in clean energy innovation to create new jobs.  Most importantly, the president reminded the nation of what makes America great, citing our diversity and rejection of fear and intolerance." 

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-9th Dist.): "There should be no place in our discourse for the recent rash of Islamophobia we have heard from some running for political office, so it was good to see the President standing up for our American ethos of acceptance and tolerance. I was particularly pleased that President Obama reiterated our nation's commitment to provide shelter for refugees from the Syrian civil war."

Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th Dist.): "Think about where this nation was when he first arrived in Washington. Even though my colleagues look at him through a tainted lens, history is going to be very kind to this president."

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-12th Dist.): "President Obama's vision is clear. It's one that pushes America toward a brighter future, embracing our diversity, relying on compromise, and reminding every single one of us that we are all Americans equally responsible for the strength of our nation. I'm very much looking forward to working with him in the final year of his term to build upon the successes we've already achieved, and set a strong foundation for our future.

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