Jeff Van Drew: Real People : News Room : The Van Drew Team for Change : Jeff Van Drew, Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land
Jeff Van Drew: Real People
If you don’t believe that real people in Cumberland County, living real lives with everyday struggles, can and do help change the laws governing New Jersey, I invite you to read this column – the first of two — which is about several such constituents of mine who have, over the past several years, truly have made a difference – and have done so by dedicating their lives to changing laws so others might be spared their grief and pain. My Assembly colleagues, Nelson Albano and Matt Milam and I have been very fortunate to meet many people who care so much about the many issues facing New Jersey in general and Cumberland County in particular that they have come to us with ideas for making life better – and in the case of those you will soon read about, safer – for all of us. They have the energy, fortitude and total commitment to bring us these good suggestions, and have truly made a difference. So often, they – not the highly placed “big shots” – are the true catalysts for change, and we are blessed to have them work with us. This column is the first of two about such remarkable people. Nelson Albano and Michael’s Law. In December, 2001, before he was elected to his first term in the state Assembly, Nelson’s 19-year-old son, Michael, was killed by a drunk driver with four previous drunken driving convictions. Nelson came to me with a suggestion – legislation, which I eventually sponsored, that would keep repeat drunk drivers out of their vehicles. I agreed, and together, we wrote Michael’s Law which considerably stiffened the penalties for those convicted of repeat drunken driving offenses, including a mandatory 180-day term of imprisonment without being eligible to participate in a work release program. Because Nelson worked so tirelessly with me on this bill, including eloquent testimony before the Assembly vote, I asked him to apply his talents to public office and suggested he run for a seat in the Assembly. He agreed and in the years since he won his first election, he has demonstrated the same energy and commitment to other issues that have helped change the face of our state and Assemblyman Matt Milam and I are proud to call him a valued colleague. Lisa Miles and Skinner’s Law. Lisa lost her father, Lawrence Skinner, in November 2003, in a hit-and-run accident when he was struck by a tri-axle dump truck and killed instantly while working on the Brandiff Avenue bridge in Millville. Rather than just feel the unbearable pain of this tragedy, she, like Nelson Albano, decided that the law – this time that which governs hit-and-run deaths (there were 43 on New Jersey roads in 2001) – should be improved so that others might be spared a fate similar to that of her father. She, too, asked me to sponsor legislation to stiffen the penalties for this crime. I did, and it was Lisa’s commitment and hard work with me in both the Assembly and Senate, that was instrumental in the creation of Skinner’s Law. Today, anyone convicted of knowingly leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident resulting in death, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The law was also changed from a 3rd degree to a 2nd degree crime. Everyone has Lisa Miles to thank for creating this significant deterrent, and I pleased that she continues to work with Assemblymen Albano and Milam and me. Diane and Ron Stretch and Anna’s Law. In May, 2007, 91-year-old Anna Thompson, Diane’s grandmother, was savagely beaten to death, then stabbed, in her home by a 13 ½-year-old girl who then proceeded to watch television. She was convicted of murder but can be released in less than 10 years, despite being found guilty of this horrific and heinous crime, because under New Jersey law, she is considered a juvenile. Quite rightly, Diane and Ron believe that juveniles convicted of crimes so heinous, so cruel, so terrible should be tried on adult murder charges, and they came to Assemblyman Albano and me to ask us to introduce legislation authorizing the court to try juveniles as adults when they are charged with crimes as cruel as the murder of Anna Thompson. We wrote Anna’s Law and since its introduction, Diane and Ron have made its passage their passion so that others might be spared the pain of crimes similar to that against Anna Thompson, and they, too, continue to work with Assemblymen Albano and Milam and me for the adoption of this measure.
Next month, you’ll read about three more families who have made a similar difference in the face of tragedy, grief and pain. Click here to read the second part.