Competing bills in the New Jersey’s Assembly and Senate would address concerns regarding essential workers diagnosed with COVID-19 by creating legal presumptions the disease was contracted on the job.
Assemblymembers Carol Murphy (D-7), Annette Chaparro (D-33) and Raj Mukherji (D-33) sponsored A-3945, a bill extending eligibility for accidental disability and death benefits to first responders who contracted COVID-19. The Assembly Appropriations Committee advanced the legislation May 18.
It would provide law enforcement officers, state troopers, firefighters, and emergency medical responders enrolled in one of the three retirement systems associated with the professions access to accidental disability benefits stemming from the disease. Named beneficiaries would be eligible for accidental death benefits as well.
The legislation would remove requirements of proof that the first responder “more likely than not” contracted the disease in the line of duty, provided the public servant interacted with the public during the public health emergency and state of emergency.
The three sponsors issued a joint statement commending first responders across the state for putting their lives on the line to keep New Jersey communities safe during the crisis.
“New Jersey owes debt of gratitude to each and every one of these brave residents protecting our communities under these challenging and unprecedented circumstances. Providing these benefits is one way we can thank them for all they have been doing – and continue to do – for our state,” they wrote.
The Senate bill, authored by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3), Sens. Robert Singer (R-30), and Linda Greenstein (D-14) focused on expanded access to workers’ compensation and related benefits.
Under S-2380, a legal presumption would be created, assigning the contraction of the disease among healthcare workers and public safety workers as a work-related injury or illness. This would open both public- and private-sector employees who interact with the public in this capacity access to workers’ compensation benefits.
Sen. Sweeney argued those on the frontlines deserved the knowledge they would be supported via basic worker protections amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Making Benefits Available
“We need to ensure that they can go to work with the knowledge that these benefits will be there if they need them,” he said.
The bill, which passed 27-11, would be retroactive to March 9, lining up with the original declaration of New Jersey’s state of emergency. The time frame lined up with the Assembly proposal.
Sen. Greenstein echoed the sentiment, arguing many of these workers were among the lowest-paid members of the workforce.
“In this unprecedented public health crisis, it is more important than ever that basic protections for those workers who interact with the public and increase their own risk of exposure should be maintained,” she said.