UPDATE March 18, 10:20 p.m. EDT:

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie did not block the bill

Original story begins here:

Tesla Motors Inc. came closer Monday to winning approval to sell cars directly to consumers in New Jersey. The only thing standing in the way is Gov. Chris Christie, who could veto a move in Trenton to let zero-emission vehicle manufacturers “like Tesla Motors” market cars without a retail franchise system. The New Jersey Legislature approved the bill (A3216) that would let the Model S electric car maker reopen direct sales in the state against the wishes of established dealerships.

This is a battle Tesla has been fighting in several U.S. states that prevent automotive manufacturers from also owning the dealerships that sell their cars. Tesla advocates say dealers are trying to block Tesla from controlling how its cars are sold. Defenders of the automotive retail franchise system say dealerships have a commercial interest in honoring warranty claims and fixing recall-related problems because they charge automakers for these services.

“Tesla makes an excellent product, but their effort to bypass the neighborhood new car franchise systems, it’s not an effort to create choice for consumers,” said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers. “It’s an effort to give Tesla special treatment and places the fox directly in charge of the chicken coop.”

Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla Motors' head of corporate and business development, issued the following statement by email on Monday: “Today's vote was a win for New Jersey consumers, the free market, and the environment. We look forward to Governor Christie signing the bill when it reaches his desk so that Tesla can resume direct sales to the citizens of New Jersey as soon as possible.”

The New Jersey Senate vote on Monday comes three days after similar legislation passed the Georgia House of Representatives that would lift a cap on sales of the Tesla Model S in a leading state for electric car sales.

Last year, the Christie administration forced Tesla to close down its two showrooms, citing laws on the books that prevent automakers from directly selling to customers.

"I'm not pushing Tesla out; the state Legislature did," the governor said during a town hall meeting almost exactly a year ago. "They passed a law — which is still on the books — which says if you want to sell cars in this state, you must go through an authorized dealer. My job is not to make the laws, it's to enforce the laws. And Tesla was operating outside the law."

Currently, 22 states allow Tesla to sell directly to consumers. Tesla operates “galleries” in states where it cannot sell directly to customers, but these outlets are prevented from offering test drives or delivering cars to customers directly. Instead, the cars have to be shipped from a state where they can be sold directly.

Texas is considering legislation that would allow the company to open a dozen dealerships.

Story was updated Monday at 8:25 p.m. EST to include the response from Tesla Motors.