Aiming to assist first responders who voluntarily participated in 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts, legislation sponsored by Assemblymen James Kennedy, Jamel Holley and Andrew Zwicker expanding eligibility for accidental disability allowance to include members or retirees of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) and the State Police Retirement System (SPRS) who voluntarily responded to the attack was approved Monday by the Assembly Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.
“When police and firefighters in New Jersey, received word that two planes had struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, many of them didn’t hesitate before responding to the scene, even though they were not specifically ordered to go,” said Kennedy (D-Middlesex, Somerset, Union). “Unfortunately, some suffered permanent or total disability. Due to the fact that they responded as volunteers, they are not entitled to the same compensation as their counterparts who were considered to be ‘on the job that day. It’s time to change that.”
The bill (A-4882) would provide that a member or retirant of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System (PFRS) and the State Police Retirement System (SPRS) is eligible to receive an accidental disability retirement allowance for a permanent and total disability resulting from participation in 9/11 World Trade Center rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations, whether or not they are instructed by an employer to participate. If a member participated in World Trade Center rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations for a minimum of eight hours, a disability resulting from a qualifying condition or impairment of health would be presumed to have occurred during and as a result of a member’s regular or assigned duties and not the result of the member’s willful negligence, unless the contrary can be proved by competent evidence. The presumption is available whether or not the member was assigned to participate.
A member who did not participate in those operations for a minimum of eight hours would be eligible for the presumption provided that:
· the member participated in the rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations at the World Trade Center site between September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001;
· the member sustained a documented physical injury at the World Trade Center site between September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001 that is a qualifying condition or impairment of health resulting in a disability that prevented the member from continuing to participate for a minimum of eight hours; and the injury that resulted in a disability that prevented the member from doing so is the qualifying condition or impairment of health for which the member is seeking a presumption.
“All of the heroic men and women who responded to Ground Zero deserve our utmost respect and admiration, regardless of whether they were on the clock,” said Holley (D-Holley). “They all saw the same terror, took the same risks, and worked towards the same goal. If their health has been affected in the time since, they all should be eligible for the same disability allowance.”
“Our country is still feeling the effects of 9/11 today. The impact on those who were there – particularly our first responders – remains even more prevalent,” said Zwicker (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex and Hunterdon). “We can go further to honor our first responders by ensuring they are recognized and compensated for their service on 9/11, voluntary or otherwise. They deserve nothing less.”
The bill would also provide for a reclassification of a service retirement or an ordinary disability retirement as an accidental disability retirement if the retirant, while a member of the retirement system, participated in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations a minimum of eight hours and incurred a disability in retirement caused by a qualifying condition or impairment of health which the medical board determines to be caused by the member’s participation in World Trade Center rescue, recovery or cleanup operations. The board of trustees would be required to promulgate rules and regulations and to notify members and retirants in the retirement system of the enactment of the bill within 30 days of enactment.
Additionally, the measure would delineate the diseases recognized as qualifying conditions or impairments of health, and defines “World Trade Center rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations” to mean the rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations at the World Trade Center site between September 11, 2001 and October 11, 2001. The bill also defines “World Trade Center site” to mean any location below a line starting from the Hudson River and Canal Street, east on Canal Street to Pike Street, south on Pike Street to the East River, and extending to the lower tip of Manhattan.
The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.