Senator M. Teresa Ruiz was elected to the Senate in 2007. A first-generation Puerto Rican American, she is the first Latina to serve in the New Jersey Senate.
Senator Ruiz, an Assistant Majority Leader, serves as chair of the Senate Education Committee. Upon assuming her leadership role in 2010 the senator began a statewide conversation about reforming the state’s teacher tenure laws, which served as the platform for legislation she sponsored to overhaul New Jersey’s 100-year-old statute. Signed into law in August of 2012, the Teacher Effectiveness and Accountability for the Children of New Jersey (TEACHNJ) Act was endorsed by the state teachers’ union and received unanimous bipartisan support in the state Legislature.
Senator Ruiz has sponsored numerous laws to improve the safety and preparedness of New Jersey’s public schools and institutions of higher education, including a law requiring education officials in K-12 districts to hold safety drills each month to prepare students, teachers and administrators for specific emergencies. She also sponsored a law requiring colleges and universities to distribute information about fire safety plans, including evacuation procedures, to the campus community. The legislation was part of the continued effort by lawmakers to improve fire safety on college campuses following a tragic Seton Hall University fire in 2000.
A strong advocate for equal rights, Senator Ruiz sponsored legislation to ensure all that New Jersey students born in the United States are provided equal access to college. The Higher Education Citizenship Equality Act sought to reverse the state’s policy of denying U.S. born New Jersey students access to financial aid offered under state tuition assistance programs if their parents were undocumented immigrants. The bill was in response to a decision by the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority (HESAA) to deny tuition aid to a U.S.-born student who had graduated from a New Jersey high school. The decision was reversed by the Appellate Division of the Superior Court in August of 2012.
The Senator also played a major role in the passage of the “Educational Facilities Construction and Financing Act” which authorized $3.9 billion in funding for school construction projects throughout New Jersey, the majority of which was allocated to school districts formerly known as Abbott School Districts. She also was a driving force in the passage of legislation creating the state’s interdistrict public school choice program which enables students to attend a school that better suits their needs. She sponsored a law permitting county colleges and vocational technical schools to implement green jobs training programs to prepare students for a 21st century workforce.
Senator Ruiz was the prime sponsor of a 2009 law prohibiting individuals from purchasing more than one handgun in a month, and also sponsored a law enabling inmates and formerly incarcerated persons to obtain information and services to foster rehabilitation and reduce recidivism rates.
The Senator was the prime sponsor of a law to promote bone marrow and blood stem cell donation awareness. Jaden’s Law is named in honor of 3-year-old Jaden Hilton, a New Jersey boy who lost his battle with Leukemia in 2007 after he was unable to find a bone marrow match. Senator Ruiz also sponsored a law to create the New Jersey Advisory Council on End-of-Life Care in the state Department of Health and Senior Services, formed to conduct a review of the current health care system and provide recommendations to more effectively meet the special needs of persons who are approaching the end of life.
Senator Ruiz received a bachelor’s degree from Drew University. Upon graduating, she began work as a preschool teacher in the North Ward Child Developmental Center located in Newark. She is a founding member of the Robert Treat Academy and also served as a Trustee of the Essex County Technical-Vocational School board. Senator Ruiz 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 in the Democratic National Convention in 2004, 2008 and in 2012. During this year’s 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 is also an 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.
A fearless advocate for the people, the senator is the recipient of numerous awards and citations from organizations which have recognized her passion to promote the ideas of justice, inclusion and equality. She was granted the Democrats For Education Reform Brian Bennett Education Warrior Award, the Spirit of Hospice Award as Public Servant in 2012 and the Garden State Equality Voice for Justice Award in 2008. She has been recognized by the Latino Institute, Inc., a nonprofit organization working to advance educational achievement for Latinos and to promote Latino culture in America, as well as the Association for Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey.