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First Responder Compensation Bill Opposed by Township

Assembly Bill A1196, as written, would prove to be 'very expensive' for municipalities

The Township Committee voted in opposition of a state Assembly bill that, if passed, would create a presumption of worker’s compensation coverage for any death or disability of first responders.

According to the township’s joint insurance fund, the bill (A1196) would prove to be “very expensive” for municipalities, Township Administrator and Municipal Clerk Veronica Laureigh said at a recent committee meeting.

“While we agree that public safety volunteers and employees, including police officers, firefighters and members of ambulance squads should be adequately compensated, New Jersey’s current laws are already one of the broadest in the country,” said Dennis Henry, consulting zctuary for the Municipal Excess Liability (MEL) Joint Insurance Fund in a letter to the township.

The bill, which was approved by an Assembly panel Dec. 10, would ensure workers who suffer due to “extreme work requirements” would be “adequately covered,” a news release from primary sponsor Linda Stender’s (D-Union/Middlesex/Somerset) office said.

“These workers are our first line of defense. Their jobs are not only stressful, they are dangerous,” she said.

"Public safety workers expose themselves to dangerous situations that could prove debilitating and even deadly," said primary sponsor Joseph Egan (D-Middlesex/Somerset). "The work is grueling not just physically, but mentally. The work itself can be a health hazard. They deserve comparable coverage."

Public Safety workers covered in the bill include paid or volunteer emergency, correctional, fire, police and medical personnel.

The bill requires the following:

  • A presumption of workers’ compensation coverage for any death or disability, including post traumatic stress disorder, if the ailment arises in response to a terrorist attack, epidemic or other catastrophic emergency, in which the worker is exposed to pathogens or biological toxins from biological warfare or epidemics, hazardous chemicals used in, or related to, chemical warfare, or cancer-causing radiation or radioactive substances, or witnesses death.
  • Employers of public safety workers to provide psychological and social counseling for the workers during and after the incidents or emergencies.
  • All care and treatment of a public safety worker who is exposed to a serious communicable disease, biological warfare, an epidemic-related pathogen or biological toxins, is compensable under workers’ compensation, even if the worker is found to not have contracted the disease.
  • Workers’ compensation coverage for any injury, illness or death of any employee arising from an inoculation program required by the employer.
  • Due to the high likelihood of firefighters being exposed to smoke and carcinogens, cancer is a compensable occupational disease for any firefighter with five or more years of service.
  • Employers to maintain records of instances of the workers deployed where the presence of known carcinogens was indicated.
  • Employers may require workers to undergo, at the employers expense, testing, evaluation and monitoring of worker health conditions relevant to determining whether exposures or other presumed causes are actually linked to the deaths, illnesses or disabilities.

The township Committee opposed the bill with the three Republicans opposing, Democrat Sean Sharkey supporting and Democrat Helen DelaCruz abstaining.

“I read the bill. The way that I interpret it is that it very specifically for those responders who are responding to a catastrophic event,” Sharkey said. “We’re literally talking about people who rushed into burning buildings on Sept. 11.”

Those who oppose the bill are primarily insurance company lobbyists, Sharkey said.

“I understand that there may possibly be a cost increase to the municipality, which I do, of course, have a problem with. However, we have a moral obligation to protect those who are going to protect us,” he said.

Mayor David Most said that by opposing the bill he is not advocating that first responders should not be adequately compensated. Modifications need to be made, he said, using cancer as an example of an area that should be reconsidered.

“Obviously, that’s not getting hurt on the job,” Most said. “I think they need to revisit and have more dialogue over it so they don’t put such a liability on the townships, as well.”

“I don’t think anybody sitting up here in this room is not 100 percent in favor of doing everything we can for our emergency service people,” Deputy Mayor Gary Quinn said. “But don’t forget, this is being debated by politicians.”

Municipalities’ opposing the bill puts it back under a spotlight, Quinn said. Before implementation, the bill has to be revisited so that it doesn’t cost municipalities.

The bill, as written, would make it “almost impossible” for municipalities to contest claims that have nothing to do with injuries and illnesses caused on the job, Henry said.

“This bill places the burden of proof on the municipality, county or state to show that the cancer was not caused by an on-the-job exposure. As a practical matter, this is almost impossible,” he said.

First responder presumptions should be outside of the workers’ compensation system because Medicare and health insurance currently cover much of the costs of medical bills.

“In effect, A-1196 as it is currently written requires municipal, county and state budgets to subsidize the federal government and health insurers by millions each year,” Henry said.

Municipal workers compensation costs are approximately $400 million per year and could potentially double if the legislation passes, he said.

The MEL has offered to work for a balanced solution and advises Legislature to complete a fiscal impact study before proceeding, he said.

President of the Policemen’s Benevolent Association Local 238 Keith Pearce agreed that the bill specifically covers catastrophic events first responders may face.

“It’s a necessary update to workers’ compensation to include biological warfare, terrorist attack, epidemic, exposure to cancer-causing radiation,” he said. “As a first responder, I am in favor of the bill.”

HomeOtTheBrave February 26, 2013 at 01:40 PM
As a first responder I'd love to see a bill signed into law that would protect me from the difficulties that the 9/11 first responders are experiencing. As a taxpayer I'd want to make sure that the bill was only targeting coverage for those who respond to catastrophic events. The bill is obviously aimed at helping the responders who suffer significant health risks due to exposure at catastrophic events. There are already laws in place that cover first responders who injure themselves lifting stretchers or slipping on ice. It is correct for the committee to be wary of the newly introduced legislation, but after witnessing the system turn its back on many of the 9/11 responders, I think that a bill like this is long overdue. Remember, we're not talking about smoke inhalation at a residential fire here, we're talking about serious illnesses caused by significant events. Lets make sure the bill defines the differences, and then lets get it passed.
GB Shore February 26, 2013 at 01:45 PM
Good job the the Township to oppose this. As they have stated, this is not about being against compensating first responders fairly, but the details of how it is written and what and how certain things are covered. Now if the TC was this responsible when it comes to other township business, we would not have so much division in the town....
Robert Yates February 26, 2013 at 02:06 PM
As an opponent of government mandated worker's compensation and as an opponent of unfunded state mandates upon local municipalities, I think the town committee got this one right. Since terrorist attacks are very rare, this type of compensation can and should be debated after the fact. It should not be set in stone as a preemptive measure. Moreover, don't first responders have health insurance? This should theoretically be sufficient to cover their health problems. Worker's comp is a boondoggle which unnecessarily complicates an already incomprehensible health insurance industry. The state should get out of the insurance industry all together, other than to perhaps provide health insurance for state employees. Municipalities should likewise provide health insurance as they see fit and according to their means. Such coverage should not be dictated by the state.
M.O.D. February 26, 2013 at 04:38 PM
Volunteerism is dying a slow, painful death. Towns provide minimal coverage to it's first responders, outside of police. If a firefighter or EMT blows out his knee on a call and can't work their regular job anymore, then what? Do you think we're immune to terrorism here? Take one look at Oyster Creek NGS and think again. That's the oldest nuclear plant in the country, lightly protected, and a legitimate strategic target. Don't expect and volunteers to be tripping over themselves trying to respond to an incident there when most rational people are running away from it. Debate it all you want, but qualified people are less likely to put themselves in harm's way when the people they serve can't decide on how to help them when things go bad.
Randy Daytona February 26, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Yup im sure we will never see a terrorist attack on our soil, how quickly 911 is forgotten. People need to pull their heads out of the sand and wake up. Our town is directly on the coast, it’s accessible by land or sea and what better place to attack but a town with fewer cops today than in the 1980’s and a nuke plant with momo security. Were a time bomb. The volunteers of this town should all quit or strike, in our surrounding areas they are paid. Our local volunteers deserve every benefit that they could receive for putting themselves in danger day after day. I don’t know what side our TC is really on, they always want to save money but they also want to spend 120k on a civilian director for the police department. If they promoted from within it would cost 6k. It seems this TC is only out for themselves and not concerned about the volunteers or the police officers safety, they are not concerned about the tax payers either. My only conclusion is that they are all out for themselves and to line their pockets. Everyone forgets this town hired an auditor to find the missing money, the auditors conclusion was that the books were so bad the audit could not be completed. What a wonderful job this TC is doing I hope their bank accounts are nice and full during these hard times.
Dozer Dave February 26, 2013 at 05:49 PM
but Robert tea bagger and Georgie deep pockets doesn't wanna pay for it I say go back to the plaque on the front of the house this way when the FD pulls up to their homes the let it burn and then piss on it After all we do have 13 Commissioner at the OCUA who receive 5 k FREE Medical and pension credits to compensate
Robert Yates February 26, 2013 at 06:08 PM
@MOD & Randy: This bill has nothing to do with better protecting the nuclear plant. And even if it did, how do you know how well the plant is protected? Are you privy to Exelon's internal security precautions and the measures that they take to secure the premises? This bill is a top down mandate, which is almost always a bad idea.
Robert Yates February 26, 2013 at 06:17 PM
@DD aka FRP: you appear to enjoy paying for everything....as long as it is with someone else's money. Also, do you have a list of the people that contribute their OWN money to the Lacey Fire Dept. and the Lacey EMT Services? If not, you would really have no idea whatsoever which houses the fire dept. should pass over were the plaque system in place. Learn how to spend your money instead of coercing others to spend it as you see fit.
LT Guy February 26, 2013 at 06:38 PM
Mayor David Most said that by opposing the bill he is not advocating that first responders should not be adequately compensated. Modifications need to be made, he said, using cancer as an example of an area that should be reconsidered. “Obviously, that’s not getting hurt on the job,” Most said. Hey bright boy, how about all those first responders who died of cancer when they were told it was safe to go back to ground zero to search for bodies? That wasn't getting hurt on the job?
Pam February 26, 2013 at 08:20 PM
Blah, blah, blah. I am sure the Mayor & his staff are all well compensated. Why is it any different for the people who umm...... Saves lives on a daily basis, risk their lives, endanger their lives, oh of course not . Why would we take care of the people who work 24/7, are kind, giving & compassionate!!!! Find the money, you seem to find it when you want to promote someone or increase their salary Stop picking and choosing what you feel is reasonable and just do what is right.
Dozer Dave February 26, 2013 at 08:47 PM
Pam Robert here and Georgie I got more money then you lol don't wanna pay for it but would be the first to either call the cops or ambulance of course they wouldn't wanna pay for it and if someone got hurt helping them or their family too bad is their attitude these fine citizens should start a face book page this way the FD and the Pd could ignore their call for help what clowns
Robert Yates February 26, 2013 at 09:14 PM
Dozer Dave does not read carefully and therefore draws unfounded conclusions rather than making good arguments, so it is fruitless to reply further.
Dozer Dave February 26, 2013 at 10:08 PM
Robert follow the bouncing ball in the rubber room you whined about paying for roads now you whine about ppl who may become disabled because they help others so Robert what do you propose should happen to these ppl and their families because you and georgie blow hard don't wanna pay
proud February 26, 2013 at 10:19 PM
The upside @Robert Yates is that tomorrow DD will reinvent himself--I think.
John February 28, 2013 at 01:37 AM
Once again the Republicians in this state has showed their true colors that if you are an Emergency Responder we don't care about you and the only time we want to here from you is when it serves US to look good at a PR event!!! The Emergency Responders are exposed to dangers..., to the town council and those that support the opposing of the bill come walk in the shoes of Emergency Responders!!
John February 28, 2013 at 01:39 AM
This bill is not talking about just terrorist attacks. Also, the current Workmen's Comp is a joke!
Project Bluebeam February 28, 2013 at 07:51 AM
georgie shore you said you make $30 grand on just one phone call and yet you want some guy who broke his ankle trying to put a fire out at your estate to pay the hospital bill himself. way to go.
JOHNNY Done it March 01, 2013 at 04:08 AM
AGREED , The same estate that you are building , & not paying contractors making them wait an excessively long time. so burden them so they lay off employees & put more people out of work..
JOHNNY Done it March 01, 2013 at 04:24 AM
THESE people in the committee wouldn't like it if the fire dept didn't go into there house to put a kitchen fire ,for fear of injury, toxic vapors from chemicals burning ,cause there may malfunction. so they will not lose there paying job or there family cant pay their bills.. Home dept goes up in smoke with all the material there ,that will not cause cancer or responding to oyster creek for an incident.. than go for a paid dept fire & first aid .what makes these people any different than some that is working for a paid dept...But alas, WE SCREWED OUR CITIZENS & FIRST RESPONDERS IN NEW YORK THAT RISK THERE LIVES ,LONG TERM HEALTH ISSUES iT IS THE AMERICAN WAY,,,But a citizen from another country can get a loan low or no interest & part of the time not pay it back & go buy a business ..
JOHNNY Done it March 01, 2013 at 04:26 AM
agreed
JOHNNY Done it March 01, 2013 at 04:45 AM
Here is the TC agenda spend money on a street sweeper,,Lets so how much we can spend to schmooze over geese lovers give our self a raise , Hire people that need to take their shoes off to count to 20 & manage & pay the same bills twice (parkers friend) . Hire a Gilmore lackey to put a public safety director in, When the captain is more qualified than the previous chief , Try to find out why the town is bleeding money,, They must have 2 logs like a trucker , the real one & the make believe one & forget which is the right one.
proud March 01, 2013 at 11:37 AM
@JOHNNY Done It, do you really think that logging is particularly germane to this discussion? Geese? Now, that's a different story.
JOHNNY Done it March 03, 2013 at 02:57 AM
AT Proud , the point is ,the town all of a sudden has some money it seems like everyone is getting raises bought some vehicles , want to pay a public saftey director big bucks...But screw the first responders so what is it budget A we have money or budget B we are broke?? I guess depending on which book the public sees.. It looks the first responders should go for the OCUA commisioners position dont have to get hurt. burned, or breath in toxic fumes...just smell the stuff the are talking & treating POOP...
proud March 03, 2013 at 05:20 AM
@Here's Johnny, I get it, but you're all over the map. Read the article, collect your thoughts, and go and get 'em.
grace March 07, 2013 at 03:57 PM
i am sorry but mr most i dont agree....and thank you first responders and police for all you have done in the past and will continue to do in the future
grace March 07, 2013 at 03:58 PM
or 60 billion in aid to rebels when we havent helped sandy victims yet!

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