After marathon session, pension and benefit reform approved by Assembly committee

TRENTON – The Assembly Budget Committee has approved legislation that overhauls pension and benefits for police officers, firefighters, teachers, and judges, among others. The bill, A4133, is the lower chamber version of state Sen. President Steve Sweeney’s (D-3) reform bill, and was approved by the lower chamber committee today, 7-5. The committee began hearing testimony at nearly 11 a.m. this morning and took their final vote after 8 p.m.

Democrats voting in favor of the bill included lower chamber sponsor and Budget Committee Chairman Lou Greenwald (D-6), of Voorhees; Assemblymen Albert Coutinho (D-29), of Newark; and John Burzichelli (D-3), of Paulsboro. They were joined by Republican Assemblymen Declan O’Scanlon (R-12), of Little Silver; Gary Chiusano (R-24), of Augusta; Anthony Bucco (D-25), of Boonton; and Jay Webber (R-26), of Morris Plains, to approve the measure.

The bill will go before the full Assembly on Thursday for final passage. The Senate approved the measure today, 24-15. Under the reform, public employees will pay a great portion of their health insurance premiums, the amount of which depends on their salary.

Democratic Assembly members Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-15), of Ewing; Joan Quigley (D-32), of Jersey City; Nellie Pou (D-35), of North Haledon; Gordon Johnson (D-37), of Englewood; and Gary Schaer (D-36), of Passaic, voted against the bill. Watson Coleman asked why the board was taking a vote without having heard from the Department of Treasury and without having a fiscal estimate for the reform legislation.

The amount employees must contribute toward their pensions will rise from 5.5 to 6.5 percent for teachers; from 3 to 12 percent for judges; 8.5 to 10 percent for firefighters; and from 7.5 to 9 percent for state police. Cost-of-living adjustments will no longer be provided to current and future retirees, according to the bill, unless pension funds.

The legislation also requires health and pension boards to be formed made up of governor’s appointees and representatives of the state’s largest unions. The bill establishes such boards for the State Health Benefits Plan and the School Employees Health Benefits Program to set plan structures, co-pays, deductibles, among other costs.

The bill also contains a provision limiting coverage for certain “medically necessary” health care services done at out of state medical facilities, which was changed by bill sponsors in the Senate today.

The bill repeals a provision of law that provides that the State Health Benefits Commission must not enter into a contract for the benefits provided pursuant to the contract in effect on October 1, 1988, including, but not limited to, basic benefits, extended basic benefits, and major medical benefits unless the level of benefits provided under the contract entered into is equal to or exceeds the level of benefits provided for in the contract in effect on October 1, 1988, or unless the benefits in effect on October 1, 1988 are modified by an authorized collective bargaining agreement made on behalf of the state.

After marathon session, pension and benefit reform approved by Assembly committee