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Senate GOP rolls out last of 36 economic bills; few have passed so far

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TRENTON, New Jersey — While Senate Republicans have had little success moving their legislative agenda through the Democrat-led Legislature to boost New Jersey's economy, they introduced on Thursday the last of three dozen measures promoting online permits, vocational-technical education and driverless car technology.

The sweeping package includes bills to make it easier for driverless car manufacturers to expand in New Jersey by lowering legal hurdles; another directs state agencies to offer an online permitting process while others establish a mobile app for the state's tourism industry. Others address vocational education by creating a commission to improve courses while separate measures deal with agri-tourism and establishing an advisory board to help pharmaceutical firms find clinical trials.

It's the culmination of a six-month effort met with headwinds in the Legislature — only three of the 36 measures have passed the Senate and five have cleared committee hurdles. Two have been acted on in the Assembly only. None have gone to Gov. Chris Christie for his signature yet.

But Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr. expressed optimism at a statehouse news conference.

"There are 3,000 bills that have been introduced in the state Senate already," he said. "So the rate of progress — we are very encouraged by it."

The news conference comes as the Assembly and Senate budget committees review Christie's $33.8 billion 2016 budget, which must be acted on by the start of the next fiscal year, July 1. Kean said he expects more of the measures to get votes when lawmakers return next month.

He pointed out many of the measures have the backing of Democrats, and all of the bills that have advanced have had Democratic support.

Republicans say their effort will not cost the state additional revenue. They say they began to roll out bills in October, but many have been introduced recently.

New Jersey has added 177,500 private-sector jobs since Christie took office, and the state's unemployment rate has declined to 6.5 percent in March from 9.8 percent when the governor was first inaugurated in 2010, according to federal Labor Department statistics. But the state's unemployment rate lags the national figure of 5.5 percent.

Christie does not typically comment on legislation before it reaches his desk. Senate Democrats were critical of Christie's handling of the economy and did not commit to voting on all the bills.

"It is refreshing to see that the Republicans finally recognize that the governor has failed on the economy," said Richard McGrath, a spokesman for the Senate Democrats.

But, McGrath said, they'll review the proposals.

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