Behind the Scenes 

On Tuesday, April 2nd I had the opportunity to take a trip to the New Jersey State House with the Lesniak Institute. This opportunity presented itself thanks to the Lesniak Institute and Kean University. There was a Senate Budget and Appropriations meeting that day focusing specifically on the Department of Health. This was my inaugural visit to the State House, and I’d love to share my first hand impressions and experiences with you. 

Beginning of Our Day

We began our trip at 8:45 A.M. and boarded the Kean University Bus. This bus was virtually an airplane containing overhead storage, charging ports, adjustable air vents, and lots of legroom. On this ride, we were joined by Senator Lesniak’s PA2800 Public Social Movements class. The bus ride took about an hour, safe to say given all the amenities above we all took advantage of the hour for a nap. Upon arrival at the State House, the vastness of it was impressive. When walking in, we were greeted by beautiful old-style decorative ceilings, marble accents, and security. Once we got through the metal detector, we went up to another security desk, where they took our IDs and gave us a visitor’s pass.

Once we got through all the red tape, we followed Senator Lesniak to the chamber where the meeting was being held. The group took seats in the back of the room and was provided a detailed booklet of everything occurring during the budget meeting. The meeting started about an hour later than scheduled, but that gave us ample time to look through the booklet and see what the meeting would be about. People from schools, interested parties and organizations came to listen, the room was crowded.

First, they went down the list of senators who were supposed to be present and had them reply ‘here’ after their names were read off. It was mildly comedic to see state senators being checked for attendance as if they were in grade school. Some of the Senators in attendance were Vice Chair Linda Greenstein, Michael Testa, Chair Paul Sarlo, and many more. The Department of Health Commissioner also attended to discuss their proposed budget. Some main takeaways were that charity care funding would be decreased. This was due to the fact that there is a federal program in which the funding for charity care is matched through federal funding, ultimately making it less expensive for the state of New Jersey. This means that the Department of Health would have to work with the Department of Human Services to make this work. 

In addition, there was a lot of chatter about being prepared for another pandemic. The Commissioner was not fully transparent about the level of readiness; however, the Commissioner reassured us by saying that they are working extremely hard to check all boxes to prepare us for the unknown. A particular Senator from South Jersey was very vocal about his disagreement with virtual students having to abide by some universities’ vaccine mandate. The Senator contentiously said that the vaccine did not prevent the spread of COVID-19 or the person from getting COVID-19, so what is the point of the mandate? In response, the Commissioner clarified that they fully back the vaccine mandates as she has seen the benefits of the vaccine as well as other vaccines.  Overall, from the hour of the meeting that I witnessed, I would say it was interesting and entertaining. Rather than the budget information being the peak of interest, my interest peaked at how communicative the committee members and the Department of Health were. The Commissioner of the Department of Health was able to answer questions from the committee, and when faced with uncertainty she ensured she would look into it and follow up. Overall, it was awesome to see that there was open communication between the committee members and the department of health. I  thoroughly enjoyed the meeting and would definitely attend again. 

Midday Adventures

Our group broke off for lunch where Senator Lesniak generously provided us with Panera, which was fit for any dietary needs we listed! During lunch, Senator Lesniak offered his insight on the meeting as well as answered any questions that were presented. We also were graced by three press members who came to discuss their positions, roles, and how they got to do what they do. This ended in a very entertaining collaboration between them and the Senator. Once lunch was finished, tour guides for the State House came to us and gave us a tour! On this tour, we saw the Senate and Assembly chambers and learned about the history of these rooms. We also got to see where Governor Murphy resides when he is at the State House. While walking through this building, you see it is truly a labyrinth. You can make one wrong turn and get lost instantly, so a tour guide is absolutely necessary for first time visitors like me. The house, overall, is stunning and has maintained its old style and appeal.

End of Our Journey

After our tour, we concluded our day by making more content for the Lesniak Institute’s social media pages and taking pictures with Senator Lesniak. If you want to see a close-up of our day and the New Jersey State House, go check it out on Instagram at @lesniakinstitute. We headed back to the bus and our informative, fun day came to a close. Overall this experience is one I will never forget and one I would like to do again. I recommend that anyone watch these meetings! They are completely free and allow you to be actively involved in our political climate, being informed is the greatest thing you can do. Lastly, I would like to extend a thank you to Senator Lesniak and the Lesniak Institute for providing us with this opportunity, it was truly unforgettable. 

About the Author: Molly Flammia is currently a Service Specialist Intern at the Lesniak Institute. She is a student at Kean University, expecting a bachelor’s degree in Marketing.