TRENTON, New Jersey (WABC) -- New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy outlined his vision for the coming year in his annual State of the State address in Trenton on Tuesday.
Invited guests included several entrepreneurs, workers, health care professionals, and young leaders who the administration says are doing their part to build a stronger, fairer, and more inclusive state.
At the forefront of Murphy's address was a focus on making New Jersey more affordable and the best place to raise a family.
During his address, Murphy introduced a new medical debt relief legislative package. The program is aimed at helping families avoid falling into medical debt and protecting them from predatory debt collectors.
Last year, New Jersey invested $10 million into an innovative medical debt relief program. Murphy said that for every dollar invested, the state could retire up to $100 in debt for tens of thousands of people.
He asked that the first part of the new relief package be named in honor of 25-year-old Louisa Carman. A leading member of the Office of Health Care and Affordability and Transparency behind the package, Carman died in a car accident on New Year's Day.
In addition to debt relief, Murphy also urged the passing of important housing legislation to eliminate the state's shortage of affordable housing units in an efficient and equitable manner. Part of the plan includes building new housing options in proximity to jobs, transit hubs and main street businesses.
Cristina Tone is one state resident exemplifying the importance of more affordable housing. When Tone's son suffered a medical crisis and needed to move back home, the family managed to keep a roof over their heads thanks to a recent supportive housing project in Paterson.
"We need to put the dream of homeownership and affordable housing back into reach for working New Jerseyans," Murphy said.
In addition to medical debt and housing relief, Murphy discussed his state's protection of "our fundamental rights -- from voting rights to reproductive rights -- and every right in between."
Later this year, women in New Jersey will be able to walk into a pharmacy and buy birth control without a prescription. At the same time, Murphy called on the state's legislature to eliminate out-of-pocket costs for abortion procedures while protecting patients and medical providers.
Murphy also highlighted his administration's efforts in protecting voting rights, including signing a bill into law last week that will allow 17-year-olds the right to vote in primaries if they turn 18 by the time of the general election. He also talked about championing efforts supporting same-day voter registration and expanding the right for those aged 16 and 17 to vote in local school board elections.
Thinking about the future generation, he also introduced new initiatives to increase literacy rates among schoolchildren while building upon the state's progress in making universal pre-K a reality for all.
Towards the end of his address, Murphy talked about the Garden State's future as a leader in science and innovation, including its embracing of generative artificial intelligence through a new program called "AI Moonshot."
"With New Jersey's AI Moonshot, our mission is for our state's top minds to pioneer a series of AI-powered breakthroughs, over the next decade, that will change the lives of billions for the better," he said. "Our state government will be a catalyst for bringing together innovators and leaders to invest in research and development, and ultimately, establish New Jersey as the home-base for AI-powered game-changers."
Murphy's address comes one day after New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation to boost their salaries from $49,000 to $82,000 annually, along with raises for the governor and other top officials. The bill passed in the Democrat-led legislature a day before a new session starts and when lawmakers take their oaths of office.
If signed by the Democratic governor, the bill won't go into effect until 2026, after Murphy leaves office and when lawmakers face voters in the regular 2025 general election.
State lawmakers haven't voted themselves a raise since 2002, with some arguing that the 67% increase is needed to keep up with rising costs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.