As reported by NJ.com, New Jersey first responders who volunteered at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11 attacks are now eligible for an accidental disability pension under a bill signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday. It was one of two 9/11-related measures Murphy signed during a ceremony attended by more than 100 police officers, firefighters and other first responders at Liberty State Park, just across the Hudson River from where the Twin Towers once stood. The second law allows first responders in the Garden State who die or suffer from an illness or disability because of their work to be covered by workers compensation.
“They didn’t think of themselves, they only thought of others,” Murphy said of those who responded after the 2001 terrorist attacks. “They didn’t ask to go, they just went.” But, over the last 18 years, the governor added, the effects of breathing the toxic fumes at Ground Zero “have taken their toll on the health of too many of these heroes.” “We remember their sacrifice, we honor their service, and today we act to help them when they need that help the most,” Murphy said during the ceremony at the old Central Railroad of New Jersey terminal.
The first law (A4882) is named after Bill Ricci, a Clifton firefighter who assisted in rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center after the attacks and was later diagnosed with a respiratory disease that left him unable to work.
Ricci said because he volunteered and wasn’t on official duty at the time, he didn’t qualify for an accidental disability pension — about two-thirds of his salary.
“I was shocked, angry,” Ricci said at Monday’s ceremony. “’That can’t be right, can it?’ Well, it no longer is.”
This law allows public employees in New Jersey who weren’t on duty but volunteered at Ground Zero and who have qualifying medical conditions to receive such retirement benefits.
Both houses of the New Jersey Legislature overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan bill last month — 37-0 in the state Senate and 76-0 in the state Assembly. The second law (S716) is named after the late Thomas Canzanella, a Hackensack Fire Department deputy chief who spent several weeks at Ground Zero and advocated for better conditions for first responders.
Under previous law, New Jersey’s first responders had the burden of proving that their job cause their illness. The new law, Murphy said, places the burden on the employer. Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, vetoed it in 2016. But the Democratic-controlled Legislature took it up again after Murphy, a Democrat took office. The state Senate passed the bill 38-0 and the Assembly 73-5 last month.
Canzanella’s daughter, Allison Canzanella, grew emotional at Monday’s event as she remembered her father, who died at age 50.
“I’m so proud to be his daughter every single day,” she said.
Both laws take effect immediately. Murphy also contrasted New Jersey with how Republican-controlled Congress has treated 9/11 first responders. Last month, comedian Jon Stewart, a New Jersey native, went to Washington, D.C., to chastise federal lawmakers for not acting to reauthorize a fund to compensate victims and their families.
“Our message today is crystal clear,” Murphy said. “We remember, we honor, we act.”
A4882 amends N.J.S.A. 43:16A-7, the statute governing the issuance of accidental disability benefits for members of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, or PFRS. One of the new additions to the statute affords a PFRS member who sustained a qualifying, disabling condition due to participating in “World Trade Center rescue, recovery, or cleanup operations” the presumption that his or her condition occurred “during and as a result of the performance of the member’s regular or assigned duties,” unless the contrary can be proved by competent evidence. This presumption is only afforded under the statute if the member participated in these recovery operations for a minimum of eight (8) hours. However, the presumption is still available to those members who assisted in recovery operations despite not being directly ordered to do so by their employer.
A4882 can be found here.