Carol Murphy may be just shy of six months into her first year as a member of New Jersey’s General Assembly, but she’s hardly a novice about the inner workings of state government.
Prior to last year’s election, the Mount Laurel Democrat spent close to a decade as a staffer for the New Jersey School Development Authority and the likes of Assemblywoman Gabriela M. Mosquera, D-4th of Gloucester Township, and Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-14th of Plainsboro.
In fact, Murphy is such a familiar figure in the Statehouse that a legislative aide accidentally slipped up and called her Carol during a meeting rather than her new title of Assemblywoman Murphy.
“I’m just getting used to the title. I appreciate the respect that accompanies it, but to me I’m just Carol,” Murphy said Friday during an interview.
“Just Carol” may be how the assemblywoman describes herself, but to the rest of New Jersey’s government, she’s rapidly becoming synonymous with some of the thorniest policy matters the Legislature is wrestling with, including the ongoing state budget negotiations, health care, economic development, gun control and marijuana legalization.
Those issues aren’t easy for any lawmaker to navigate. But being in the center of those issues is exactly where she saw herself last February when she first announced her intention to run for the open 7th District Assembly seat of fellow Democrat Troy Singleton.
“I remember working with (Mosquera) and talking about ways to promote her district and I thought ‘You know what? These are things that Burlington County can utilize.’ But the only way for me to do that was to take that leap and run.”
Singleton’s seat became open after Diane Allen, the district’s longtime Republican senator, announced her intention to retire from politics at the end of her term, making Singleton the instant favorite to succeed her as senator.
But what most people don’t know is that months before that, Murphy was quietly preparing to mount a challenge against Allen if she opted to run for re-election.
That’s no knock on Allen, who is renown as one of the most popular and respected lawmakers in state history, but rather a reflection of Murphy’s drive to serve in the Legislature, even if it meant challenging against an opponent most political watchers considered unbeatable.
“I knew I needed to get my name out there,” said Murphy, adding that she was more than happy to run for an Assembly seat after Allen announced her retirement and Singleton announced his interest in moving to the Legislature’s upper chamber.
Murphy went from longshot challenger to huge favorite as she joined Singleton and longtime Assemblyman Herb Conaway on the Democrats’ 7th District ticket. All three candidates won in a landslide.
More work followed the election as the former staffer started the process of hiring her own staff, finding office space and preparing to take the oath and begin legislating.
The last task came naturally. Murphy loves to talk about legislation and policy and she has become the prime sponsor of dozens of the bills on issues ranging from campaign finance reform and small business development to animal protections and veterans unemployment.
Among the dozens of measures with her name attached, two stand out as particularly important to the legislator.
The first is one she penned to improve health care access, by providing health care workers, such as nurses, home health aides, physical therapists and others, with parking placards so that they may park their motor-vehicles on street areas or parking lots that may be restricted or metered.
“This seems like the simplest thing, but it’s also one of the most needed,” Murphy said about the proposed placards, which would be issued to hospitals and other health care providers annually to assist their homecare workers with parking issues.
“It’s one of the first bills I put in and it’s one I’ve really been pushing. Accessible health care is something we need more of,” she said.
Other lawmakers agree. During a hearing on the measure in the Assembly Transportation Committee earlier this month, the panel’s chairman Daniel Benson, D-14 of Hamilton Township, reflected on the difficulties a nurse providing round-clock-care for his grandmother faced finding street parking near his grandmother’s home.
“There was just no off-street parking in her neighborhood,” Benson said. “A bill like this would be much more helpful and make life just a little bit easier for those doing God’s work.”
The second bill deals with sexual harassment and ensuring that the Legislature has a clear and strict policy that is distributed to elected members and government employees. It also requires the policy to be reviewed and updated every two years, and that members and employees must complete a training course on the subject and policy every two years as well.
Murphy said she was prompted to write legislation on the issue in response to the nationwide #MeToo movement, which was spurred on by revelations of sexual harassment in both Hollywood and Congress.
Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin has already ordered an update to the Legislature’s existing harassment policy, which was originally drafted eight years ago.
Murphy said her legislation would work in concert with that update and also would codify that a similar reviews and updates should occur in the future and that there is adequate record-keeping.
A recent Associated Press report last month revealed that there were no publicly available records of sexual harassment complaints involving members of the Legislature or their employees during the last decade.
“I have all the confidence in the world about what Speaker Coughlin is going to do. This (bill) is for future officials who might think they don’t have to something,” she said. “This should have been done a long time ago, and my bill holds everyone accountable.”
Murphy also said she had no hesitation introducing the measure as a new lawmaker.
“I wanted to make sure I was heard about this and for people to take me seriously on this issue,” she said. “I believe very much in listening carefully and hearing all sides, but when I’m 100 percent sure about what I’m talking about, I express my feelings.”
Her past experience as a former legislative staffer also provided her with some insight, since she was aware that the existing policy was not well-known.
“What good is a policy if no one knows about it,” she said.
Murphy also credited her prior experience with helping her move quickly on the sexual harassment bill and others.
“You know where to go and who to talk to. And working with (Schools Development Authority) gave me a great education on how local governments work,” she said.
Among the other bills Murphy has introduced are several government transparency bills, such as as measure requiring school districts to post on their website information about its payroll, expenditures and weekly bills and vouchers. Another of her bills would require municipal governments to email notices and other announcements to residents who request it.
“Taxpayers have a right to know where their money is going, and you should be able to know what’s happening at every level of government,” she said.
There’s much else on her plate, including roundtable meetings with mayors, superintendents and business leaders, as well as more work on gun safety and improving government technology.
Her job may be considered part-time, but Murphy is happy to make it her full-time occupation and one she hopes to continue.
“I feel like I’m making a difference with the things that are really important,” she said.