Legislator of the Year

The NJPA Legislator of the Year honors a New Jersey Legislator who has sponsored or championed legislation that directly benefits psychologists and/or consumers of psychological services.  

2019 Senator Joseph Vitale

Senator Joseph F. Vitale, a Democrat from Middlesex County, was sworn in to the New Jersey State Senate in 1998 to represent the 19th Legislative District. Senator Vitale is the Chairman of the Health, Human Services, and Senior Citizens Committee
and Vice Chairman of the Labor Committee.

His legislative efforts over the years have spring boarded Senator Vitale into being one of the most respected voices on health care in the state of New Jersey. Early in his career, Senator Vitale recognized that one of the biggest challenges facing New
Jersey families is access to affordable, quality health care. In response, he created NJ FamilyCare, which provides critical health care coverage to low-income families and their children.

He has worked to support the expansion of innovative care models like Accountable Care Organizations (ACO) and Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment (SBIRT). His work to make health care accessible and affordable continues as he advocates for passage of a telemedicine law that will incentivize the adoption of such technology and improve patient access to specialty care. He scored a long-sought legislative victory when his bill was signed into law providing adoptees greater access to information regarding their personal history, including family medical information, legislation that was in the works for more than three decades.

Senator Vitale led New Jersey’s effort to address the opiate epidemic by providing the Governor a blueprint and sponsoring necessary enabling legislation to implement a multifaceted approach focusing on education, prevention, treatment and recovery. His law giving first responders and the public access to the heroin overdose antidote has already saved countless lives. Senator Vitale believes that health care and scientific research are crucial to the economic future of New Jersey. This philosophy guided him as he pursued a massive overhaul of the state’s universities and medical schools, positioning them to make New Jersey a national leader in health care and research.

Senator Vitale has been instrumental in passing laws that have improved safety at health care facilities, empowered victims of childhood sex abuse, protected victims of domestic violence, prevented nurses from forced overtime and addressed the medical malpractice liability insurance crisis. He sponsored the laws that forbid discrimination based on gender identity and created the crime of bias intimidation. Senator Vitale is a leading advocate for homeless youth. In 2012, he traveled to Guatemala and Honduras to volunteer at Covenant House’s safe houses and shelters in those countries. Each November he joins business leaders and top corporate executives to sleep out on the streets to raise awareness and money for the vital services Covenant House provides to homeless, abandoned, abused, trafficked and exploited children. In 2014, he helped establish the first legislative sleep-out in New Jersey to benefit Covenant House’s local efforts.

He is an advocate for the improvement of the education system, the protection of our environment, and the betterment of services provided to our children through the Division of Child Protection and Permanency as well as other state agencies serving vulnerable populations. Senator Vitale organizes annual events to support our troops and veterans, Habitat for Humanity, children entering foster care and families in need.

Senator Vitale has been honored by various organizations including the Women’s Political Caucus of New Jersey “Good Guy” Award for his advocacy on behalf of women’s rights as well as his support of women in the political arena. Notably, he is the recipient of the prestigious Ann Klein Advocate, Richard J. Hughes Career Public Service and Covenant House Lizzy awards.

Senator Vitale is President of Vitale Sign Corporation, a small business in Rahway. He resides in Woodbridge with his wife, Robin.
Sample Legislation in 2019:
S-964 - Establishes Behavioral Health Services Task Force.
S-1029 - Makes it a crime of the third degree to practice psychology without a license and prohibits certain unlicensed employees of certain entities from using title of psychologist.
S-1032 - Concerns expansion of services provided by DOH mental health screening services.
S-2530 - Requires certain licensed healthcare professionals and health care facilities to screen adolescents and young adults for symptoms of depression.


2018 Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle  

The award is typically presented at the NJPA Fall Conference. However in 2018, Assemblywoman Huttle was unable to attend the conference. Therefore, we worked with Assemblywoman Huttle's schedule to present her the award. On Wednesday, August 21, 2019, Drs. Morgan Murray, NJPA President, Stephanie Coyne, NJPA Past-President, and Barry Katz, COLA Chair, along with Keira Boertzel-Smith, NJPA Executive Director, and Jon Bombardieri, NJPA Government Affairs Agent visited Assemblywoman Huttle at her Englewood District Office to present her the award. 

Assemblywoman Huttle has been involved with legislation that directly benefits psychologists and/or consumers of psychological services, such as:

• A-1711 - Establishes the "Sexual Assault Victim's Bill of Rights."
• A-1724 - Requires certain health benefits plans to provide coverage for outpatient behavioral health care services.
• A-1732 - "Community Mental Health Safety Net Act"; requires OHS to provide cost-based reimbursement on quarterly basis for certain mental health and substance use disorder treatment services through June 2018; makes appropriation.
• A-2365 - Requires hospital patient's medical record to include notation if patient is at increased risk of confusion, agitation, behavioral problems, and wandering due to dementia related disorder.
• A-3035 - Increases Medicaid reimbursement rates for certain evidence-based behavioral health services; designated as the Mental Health Access Act.
• A-3049 - Requires mental health evaluation for all animal cruelty offenders; designated as "Shyanne's Law."
• A-3065 - Returns Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services to DHS. 
• A-3263 - Establishes certain requirements and conditions concerning changes to DHS reimbursement system for mental health and substance use disorder treatment services.
• A-3264 - Establishes certain requirements and conditions concerning changes to DHS reimbursement system for mental health and substance use disorder treatment services; appropriates $10 million.
• A-3276 - Establishes Behavioral Health Insurance Claims Advocacy Program.
• A-3762 - Establishes animal cruelty offense of animal hoarding; requires mental health counseling for all animal cruelty offenders.
• A-4088 - Concerns diversion from criminal prosecution for persons with mental illness under certain circumstances.


2016 Governor Richard Codey

Governor Codey began his career in state government in l973 when, at the age of 26, he became the youngest person to ever be elected to the state legislature. After four terms in the Assembly, he was elected to the New Jersey Senate in l981 and, beginning with the 211th legislative session in January 2004, was elevated to the role of senate president. It was later that year he assumed the responsibility of Governor upon Governor McGreevey’s resignation.

Throughout his 30-plus years in public service, Governor Codey has become one of New Jersey’s fiercest advocates for mental health, with the goal of making New Jersey a safer and healthier place for children and families a constant priority. On the morning of his first day as governor, he announced the creation of a panel of mental health professionals and advocates empowered to develop a master plan for educating schools, employers, and others who deal with the mentally ill.

He boosted mental health spending by $40 million dollars, and established a $200 million dollar trust fund to create 10,000 permanent housing units for the mentally ill. He is sponsor of SJR-62, a resolution which designates May of each year as “Mental Health Awareness Month.”

Governor Codey has also signed landmark legislation requiring GPS tracking of sex offenders, and he sponsored a package of laws giving New Jersey some of the toughest tools in the nation to crack down on Internet predators. He launched an unprecedented school security audit of all 3578 public, private, and charter schools in the state, which led to improved safety and security measures throughout New Jersey. He also made New Jersey the first state to require chemical plant security measures to protect against terrorism.

The list of Governor Codey’s accomplishments is long and far-reaching…well beyond the 27th District he so capably has served. He has supported and/or sponsored legislation on smoke-free environments, organ and tissue donations, raising the minimum wage, safeguarding against identity theft, post-partum depression, college scholarships….and so much more.


2015 Senator Loretta Weinberg

"Improving and protecting the health and well-being of New Jersey's residents is an effort that I take seriously, because on so many issues it means standing up and advocating for those who may not be able to do so for themselves," said Senator Weinberg (D-Bergen). "I am honored to be recognized by the association and humbled to be the first recipient of this award. I look forward to continuing my work to advance policies that promote public health in a way that prioritizes compassion and understanding of the challenges faced by our residents."

The New Jersey Psychological Association recognized Senator Weinberg for her more than three decades of outstanding public service and legislative efforts that demonstrate her dedication to the preservation of the family, helping to improve the physical and mental health of children and military veterans, advance services for children with autism, and increase resources for mental health access.

Senator Weinberg helped shape and sponsor many important health care bills including the NJ Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act that was signed into law in 2011 and the Pejorative Mental Health Language Bill signed into law in 2013 that deletes references to archaic language used in state statutes when referring to persons with developmental, cognitive, or psychiatric disabilities.