Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a measure that would have made it easier for first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for conditions resulting from their work, particularly medical conditions that might not manifest until long after the event.
The bill, which cleared both chambers of the legislature in May 2013, would have created a series of presumptions regarding the compensability of conditions contracted by public safety workers who, in the course of their work, were exposed to diseases, pathogens, or toxins; injured as a result of a vaccine; exposed to cancer-causing radiation; or contracted post-traumatic stress disorder. It would have defined the term “public safety worker” to include members, employees or officers of paid, partially-paid or volunteer fire or police departments, forces, companies or districts, including the State Police, Community Emergency Response Teams and other members of first aid or rescue squads.
The presumption would have allowed the injured public safety worker to avoid having to prove that the condition arose out of public safety work and instead require the employer to prove the opposite. Employers would have been allowed, however, to require workers to undergo, at company expense, reasonable testing, evaluation and monitoring to determine whether exposures or other presumed causes arose from public safety work.
In vetoing the proposal, Christie chided legislators for their failure to obtain a fiscal analysis or refer the bill to either house’s respective budget committees.
“Regrettably, the Legislature’s failure to pursue the responsible course of thoroughly reviewing the significant changes to a successful and long-standing system, and the corresponding impact of this proposal on taxpayers, prevent my approval,” Christie said.
“As a State, we must continually recognize the selfless contributions of our first responders [who] make enormous sacrifices in order to ensure our collective safety, health, and well-being against all manner of threats,” he continued. “That essential public service, and the costs associated with the injuries those duties may cause, must be administered in a responsible manner that matches our public resources.”
Diane Cadrain is an attorney who has been writing about employment law issues for more than 20 years.