(The Center Square) – New Jersey Republicans fell short in their attempts this week to defeat a bill that extends COVID-19 workers’ compensation benefits to employees deemed essential and expands the definition of essential employees in the public and private sector.
The bill previously was approved by the Senate back in May. The House passed the bill Thursday with minor amendments and sent it back to the Senate, which agreed to those changes.
The bill was opposed by several business groups, including the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, called it “the very definition of kicking businesses while they are down.”
The bill is estimated to cumulatively add between $400 million to $18 billion in costs to businesses. Assembly Republicans said they understood the intent of the bill, but felt it was the wrong approach.
Essential workers can receive help through the Federal Cares Act, said Assemblyman Jay Webber, R-Morris.
“I think the bill leaves federal funds on the table and substitutes state funds,” Webber said.
The bill presumes that essential workers who contract the virus received it on the job, which is something workers may have difficulty proving since New Jersey partially reopened in June, said Assemblyman Edward Thomson, R-Monmouth. The NJBIA agreed.
“There was also the chance to change the bill’s language to limit the term of presumption to a time when stay-at-home orders were in place, when it was more likely for an employee to have limited movements between work and home,” said Chrissy Buteas, chief government affairs officer for the NJBIA. “This is noteworthy as there are many more scenarios of COVID-19 being contracted in social settings rather than workplace settings.”
The NJBIA is encouraging members to contact Gov. Phil Murphy to veto the bill.
“Those who sponsored and voted in favor of this legislation today made a conscious choice to place additional burdens of a worldwide pandemic on the backs of New Jersey employers who are already struggling and have made sacrifices,” Buteas said.
Sponsors deemed the legislation important for front line workers.
“If we are willing to define some of the lowest-paid members of our workforce as essential and ask them to put themselves at a higher risk, we must ensure that we provide them with the workers compensation benefits they deserve,” said Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex/Mercer, who co-sponsored the bill with Senate President Steve Sweeney and Sen. Robert Singer. “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.”