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Legislation Could Save State High School Association

New Jersey Senators Richard Codey (D-Essex) and Thomas Kean Jr. (R-Union) introduced bipartisan legislation Thursday to keep intact the embattled New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association. The move counters a bill proposed by State Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) that would dissolve the NJSIAA and place it under the oversight of the state Department of Education and the New Jersey State School Board Association. A damning State Commission on Investigations report last month revealed that the association spent more than $800,000 of taxpayer money on catering, dinners, flowers and travel over a four-year period, and NJSIAA officials have since vowed to update the association's "archaic" financial operations.

"For more than 90 years, the NJSIAA has worked to ensure that scholastic sports in New Jersey are safe, fair and affordable for the students, families and districts," Kean said in a statement issued to The Star-Ledger newspaper of Newark. "I too am concerned about some of the financial lapses that were described in the report issued by the State Commission of Investigation, but by no means do these allegations require that the NJSIAA be dismantled. The Legislature must repair what is broken in the organization without destroying all the good the NJSIAA has accomplished for the better part of a century." The association's future is now in the hands of state lawmakers. For either one of the bills to be enacted into law - whether it be to save or dissolve the NJSIAA - it must pass through the Assembly and Senate and be signed by Gov. Chris Christie.

According to newjerseynewsroom.com, the Codey-Kean bill would establish the Office of the Inspector General of Statewide Interscholastic Sports, a new position within (but not of) the Department of Education that would monitor and audit the NJSIAA's operating and financial activities. Key ethical and financial reforms would include developing a formal code of ethics, reducing the association's executive committee from 49 members to 30, and preparing periodic public reports to ensure accountability and transparency. These reports would be available to Christie and members of the Legislature, as well as the chairs of the Senate and Assembly Education Committees. In addition, the bill would implement a number of what Codey describes as good-government reforms to get the NJSIAA back on track.

Burzichelli told The Star-Ledger that he respects the bipartisan efforts, but adds they don't go far enough. "I can't disagree with those standards, but that doesn't fix any of the structural issues that have been plaguing them," he said. "This group can't continue on with its leadership, legal guidance and spending policies and still be in business two years from now. What I'm presenting has the potential for long-term success."

The only state to have its independent athletic association dissolved and placed under state control is Delaware.

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