Senator M. Teresa Ruiz was elected as a Democrat to the New Jersey Senate in 2007 and re-elected in 2011, 2013 and 2017. She was elected by her colleagues in January to serve as Senate President Pro Tempore, becoming the first Latina to serve in a leadership position in the New Jersey Senate. Senator Ruiz is chair of the Senate Education Committee. The senator is the author of a law that overhauled the state’s century-old teacher tenure statute. Signed in 2012, the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act put standards in place requiring tenure to be earned and maintained through ongoing performance measurements, but also to ensure that if deficiencies are identified, educators get the help they need. The legislation was endorsed by the state teachers’ union and received unanimous bipartisan support in the state Legislature.
Senator Ruiz was the prime sponsor of New Jersey’s version of the DREAM Act, a measure designed to provide higher education opportunities to all students in the state. Signed in December 2013, the law makes undocumented students eligible for in-state tuition rates at New Jersey public colleges and universities. The Garden State became the 17th in the nation to legislatively establish tuition equity for DREAMers under the law.
The Senator has led the legislative effort to improve programs and services for children in the state, from prenatal to age 5. This year, she championed and was successful in securing an additional $25 million in the FY 2018 state budget to expand the state’s model quality Pre-K to more school districts. She is the prime sponsor of an ‘early childhood bill package’ to establish full-day kindergarten in all public school districts, fund wrap-around services for preschool children in former Abbott districts, and to help working families through a child care tax credit program. The bill package would also continue the effort to expand Pre-K and create a state Department of Early Childhood. She was also the sponsor of a law to expand the state’s home visitation programs for new mothers to more families.
The Senator has also focused on protecting children with learning disabilities, as well as older New Jerseyans. She sponsored a law to improve programs in public schools to identify students with difficulty reading and to provide them with stronger academic supports. She was the prime sponsor of a bill to create the New Jersey Advisory Council on End-of-Life Care in order to more effectively meet the special needs of those who are approaching the end of life.
Senator Ruiz was the prime sponsor of a 2009 law prohibiting individuals from purchasing more than one handgun in a month. She was also a prime sponsor of “The Opportunity to Compete Act,” the 2014 law more commonly known as “ban the box” which prohibits employers from asking about a job applicant’s criminal record during the initial interview process, including on a job application.
The Senator was the sponsor of a 2016 law designating a portion of Route 21 in Newark as the “Robert Clemente Memorial Highway” in honor of the sports figure and humanitarian who has served as an inspiration to many New Jersey residents.
She is a founding member of the Robert Treat Academy and also served as a trustee of the Essex County Vocational Technical School. She is vice chair of the Essex County Democratic Party and is deputy chief of staff to Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. She served as an elected delegate at the Democratic National Conventions in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016. During the 2012 convention, Senator Ruiz joined education advocates from across the country as a panelist on the Democrats For Education Reform-sponsored education town hall.
The senator was a 2010 Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellow, one of 24 individuals identified by the program’s leadership as America’s emerging political leaders with reputations for intellect, thoughtfulness, and a commitment to civil dialogue. She is a 2014 Hunt-Kean Leadership Fellow, part of a program named for former governors Jim Hunt (D-NC) and Tom Kean (R-NJ) designed for elected officials in the nation who have committed themselves to K-12 policy. Senator Ruiz is also a graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Senior Executives in State and Local Government Program.
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