A lifelong resident of Elizabeth, Senator Raymond Lesniak is a graduate of Rutgers University, class of 1971, and received his Juris Doctorate degree from St. John’s Law School in 1974. He served in the State Assembly from 1978 to 1983, and has been in the Senate since 1983. He currently chairs the Senate Economic Growth Committee, serves as Vice Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Throughout his public service career, Senator Lesniak has championed a wide range of legislative efforts.
Early in his tenure, he sponsored landmark environmental policies, such as the Environmental Cleanup Responsibility Act (ECRA), the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Pesticide Control Act, making New Jersey first-in-the-nation to tackle such issues. The laws hold polluters responsible for their actions and have resulted in cleaner drinking water for New Jersey residents.
Senator Lesniak’s Tax Incremental Financing Act gave New Jersey the most powerful tool in the country to attract private investment and create jobs. It has been responsible for creating thousands of construction jobs and attracting hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment to New Jersey, which will result in tens of thousands of permanent jobs for NJ residents.
In order to keep New Jersey’s gaming industry competitive, Senator Lesniak sponsored the law to legalize sports wagering at New Jersey casinos and racetracks, and has pushed to allow casinos in Atlantic City to expand their operations into intrastate Internet wagering. He has also fought to overturn the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, a law that gives four states – Nevada, Delaware, Oregon and Montana – a monopoly on legal sports wagering in the United States, while bolstering illegal sports book operations run by organized crime and offshore betting websites everywhere else.
Senator Lesniak has been a strong advocate for higher education and sponsored legislation signed into law to create the cabinet position of Commissioner of Higher Education to provide a stronger voice on behalf of higher education in New Jersey. He also sponsored a law that increased opportunities for colleges and private entities to enter into public-private partnerships for the construction of new facilities on campus.
In addition to being an advocate for environmental protection, job creation and higher education, Senator Lesniak has been an advocate for social justice.
He sponsored the repeal of the death penalty and replaced it with life without parole, making New Jersey the first state in the nation to abolish the death penalty in over thirty years. Since then, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut have followed New Jersey’s lead.
Senator Lesniak was at the forefront of efforts to pass legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry in New Jersey. While the legislation was ultimately vetoed by Governor Chris Christie, Senator Lesniak remains confident that same-sex couples will one day see their right to marry recognized by the State of New Jersey.
Senator Lesniak has sponsored legislation to reform the criminal justice system, to put the focus on treatment, rather than incarceration, for criminal offenders dealing with drug and alcohol addictions. He sponsored the law expanding the drug court program in New Jersey, allowing thousands of inmates to enter into an intensive drug treatment program as an alternative to incarceration, and he authored the law allowing ex-offenders to work in establishments that serve alcohol without a waiver from the State. At the time of their signing, Senator Lesniak said that providing treatment and work opportunities for drug-addicted offenders will result in less criminal recidivism, and more criminal rehabilitation in the Garden State.
Senator Lesniak has worked with the New Jersey Humane Society and other animal rights advocacy organizations to sponsor bills designed to prevent animal cruelty and preserve nearly extinct animal species throughout the world. He has sponsored bills to crack down on the black market trade in tiger body parts which is driving tigers to the brink of extinction, to prohibit “gestation crates” which are designed to prevent pregnant pigs from turning around or lying down comfortably, and to prevent the slaughter of horses for human consumption in New Jersey.
Senator Lesniak has used his legislative experiences to promote social justice in other ways. He has authored two books: The Road to Abolition: How New Jersey Abolished the Death Penalty and What’s Love Got to Do With It?: The Case for Same Sex Marriage, co-authored with fellow marriage equality sponsor Loretta Weinberg, which outlines the fight to legalize gay marriage in New Jersey, highlighting the legislative debate and the evolution of civil rights in history. Senator Lesniak also founded The Road to Justice and Peace, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting social justice causes in New Jersey and abroad, and NJ4Haiti, a nonprofit humanitarian organization created in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010 to raise funds and ship supplies to aid in the nation’s recovery.
In 2009, Senator Lesniak became only the second American, in its 20 year history, to win the prestigious international human rights award at Le Memorial de Caen, the D-Day and Human Rights museum in Normandy, France, besting thousands of contestants from throughout the world for his speech: “The Road to Justice and Peace.”
Senator Lesniak has received numerous awards for his legislative work, including the “Paul L. Troast Award for Distinguished Public Service” from the New Jersey Business and Industry Association; the “Good Guy Award” by the New Jersey Women’s Political Caucus; “Legislator of the Year” by the Medical Society of New Jersey and ASAH; “Man of the Year” by the Jewish National Fund and American Cancer Society; the Medal of Honor from The National United Youth Council, Inc.; and “Humanitarian of the Year” by Community Access Unlimited and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Program. He has also been honored by Lambda Legal for championing the cause of marriage equality and was inducted into Garden State Equality’s Hall of Fame.
Senator Lesniak is active in the Polish community and served as Grand Marshal of the 2004 Pulaski Day Parade in New York City. He was also honored by the Polish American World as “Citizen of the Year” in 1982, and is a member of the Polish Legion of American Veterans.
Senator Lesniak is a leader in the Democratic Party. From 1992 to 1993, he served as Chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and was NJ Chair of the Clinton-Gore and Gore-Lieberman presidential campaigns.
He served in the US Army from 1967 to 1969, achieving the rank of Specialist Fourth Class. He is a partner in the law firm Weiner Lesniak.
The Senator represents the 20th Legislative District representing Elizabeth, Hillside, Roselle and Union