TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey might reward businesses that hire former prisoners.

By a 7-4 vote Tuesday, a state Senate committee approved a bill that would permit counties and towns to set aside a percentage of their public contracts for companies that employ ex-cons.

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The bill’s sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Sandra Cunningham of Hudson County, told The Star-Ledger of Newark and The Record’s Statehouse Bureau it’s very difficult for those who made a mistake in life and were incarcerated to find work.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Paul Sarlo says they could end up back in prison without opportunities.

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Republican Sen. Michael Doherty of Warren County says he can’t support putting former inmates ahead of other citizens.

The legislation is part of a package of bills that Democrats are pushing to boost job creation.

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