- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey lawmakers are reigniting a debate about self-service gas just in time for drivers to fuel up as they return from their Memorial Day weekends.

New Jersey and Oregon are the only two states in the country that ban drivers from pumping their own gas and instead require station attendants to do it.

Last week lawmakers restarted the debate over self-serve gas, and while a key lawmaker in the Democrat-led Legislature put the brakes on any new legislation, the debate will continue behind the scenes, lawmakers say.

Here’s a look at where things stand and where they might be headed:

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WHO WANTS TO CHANGE THE LAW AND WHY?

Republican Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon, GOP state Sen. Gerald Cardinale and Democratic state Sen. Paul Sarlo are proposing changing the 1949 Retail Gasoline Dispensing Safety Act. That law cites safety concerns as a primary factor to explain why it’s necessary. But the sponsors of new legislation point to the 48 other states where drivers pump their own gas and say the few hazards stemming from self-service show there is no cause for concern. The effort also has the support of the New Jersey Gasoline, Convenience Store, Automotive Association, which previously opposed the change. Gas station operators have changed their minds on this issue because most stations now see bans as an impediment to sales, said Jeff Lenard, a vice president of the National Association of Convenience Stores. The new legislation calls for a three-year period during which merchants can offer self-service gas but must also provide full service.

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WHO WANTS TO KEEP THE LAW AND WHY?

Senate President Steve Sweeney said last week that the legislation will not pass as long as he’s in charge. He dismissed the safety concerns and said full-service gas is important to the disabled, senior citizens and others who might have difficulty pumping their own gas. It’s a matter of convenience, he said. “We’ve been doing it the right way in New Jersey. We should not change,” Sweeney said.

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WHAT DO NEW JERSEYANS WANT?

New public polling on the question is lacking, but a Fairleigh Dickinson University poll of 800 registered voters in January 2012 showed that 63 percent of residents supported the current law while 23 percent opposed it and 14 percent were unsure or had mixed views. That view held across age groups, but there was a split between men and women, with 72 percent of women supporting the current law and only 55 percent of men backing it. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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WHAT’S NEXT?

More debate, say the bill sponsors. But that’s likely to happen behind the scenes. “I find Steve Sweeney to be an open-minded guy,” O’Scanlon said. “I know the discussion is continuing in his party and in our party.” The state’s transportation trust fund is expected to run out of funds on July 1, 2016, and lawmakers considering an increase to the gas tax could view self-service as a way to help station operators keep prices down, Sarlo said. “We know we’re going to have to consider some type of transportation user fee, and self-serve gas would lessen the impact of the inevitable increase,” Sarlo said.

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