Sheila Y. Oliver took the oath of office as New Jersey's 169th Assembly Speaker on Jan. 12, 2010. Speaker Oliver is the first African-American woman to lead a legislative house in New Jersey. She is also, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, just the second African-American woman in American history to lead a legislative house, following Karen R. Bass of California.
Speaker Oliver, who presides over the 214th Assembly, was first elected to the Assembly in 2003, and re-elected in 2005, 2007 and 2009. In the 2008-09 Legislative Session, she served as Deputy Speaker Pro Tempore, chaired the Human Services Committee, and served on the Higher Education and Labor committees. She served as Assistant Majority Leader in the 2006-07 Legislative Session.
She represents the 34th Legislative District, which includes Clifton, the City of East Orange, Glen Ridge Borough, Montclair, and West Paterson.
She co-sponsored the law creating the Department of Children and Families, and sponsored legislation signed into law that requires that the Department of Human Services report physical assaults and deaths at state psychiatric hospitals on its website and report deaths to the Public Advocate.
She has also sponsored legislation creating paid family leave, amending the state's wrongful death law, providing specialized social services and medical treatment for persons in the criminal justice system with mental health issues, and providing low-cost auto insurance for individuals with low incomes.
Speaker Oliver was born in Newark in 1952. She graduated cum laude in 1974, with a Bachelor's degree in sociology from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. She earned a Master of Science degree in community organization, planning and administration from Columbia University in 1976.
For much of her career, Speaker Oliver has been a non-profit administrator, specializing in program development, grantsmanship and training. She is a former faculty member of several colleges and universities, and taught a course in non-profit management at the Rutgers Graduate School of Business Administration in Newark.
She is an assistant Essex County administrator, and previously served as director of the Essex County Department of Citizen Services and the Department of Economic Development Training and Employment.
Prior to joining the New Jersey Legislature, she served as an Essex County freeholder from 1996 to 1999, and as past president of the East Orange Board of Education for seven years. In 1997, she ran for mayor of East Orange, losing by 51 votes.
Speaker Oliver has served on a number of civic boards and commissions and remains an active volunteer.