TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie’s plan to reorganize how the state oversees opioid treatment efforts is apparently going to be blocked by the Legislature.

The Assembly voted last week to block the reorganization, which would transfer the Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Health. Now a key senator says the Senate will do the same before an Aug. 28 deadline.

Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, who chairs the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee, said he has concerns about the change because it would separate services from related efforts such as Medicaid and programs for people with developmental disabilities.

“It would be very difficult, and it would cause some structural issues and provider issues. And they’ve all raised concerns about this reorganization plan,” Vitale said.

“And in addition, there was never a strategic plan developed or submitted to the Legislature,” he said.

Vitale’s committee and the Assembly Human Services Committee held a hearing about the proposal last month. The Assembly then voted to reject the reorganization on July 31, a 42-25 vote that was nearly entirely along party lines.

There had been no word whether the Senate would go along, until Vitale announced Wednesday that Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, had agreed to schedule a voting session to take up legislation to block the move.

Also on Vitale’s move is the timing. He said the changes wouldn’t start to become operational until early winter, when Christie’s term ends and he and his Cabinet leave office. Vitale said reshuffling of state operations have taken up to two years to work through in the past.

“It’s literally thousands of employees, and it takes time to think about how to do this – not just why, but how to do it, how to implement it,” Vitale said.

“With an election coming up in November and a new governor and a transition team being in place, shortly thereafter, I think this is an issue that should be left for them,” he said.

A date for the voting session has not yet been determined, Vitale said.

Summer voting sessions are rare, especially in election years, so it can be challenging to find a date on short notice when enough senators are available and not on vacation or working – especially for a vote that might not get bipartisan support.


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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.