Pennacchio to introduce bill to address high number of accidental disability claims

TRENTON – Sen. Joe Pennacchio, (R-26), of Montville, who serves on the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, plans to introduce legislation on Monday to cut down on the number of accidental disability pension claims that are sought and awarded.

His action comes on the heels of a story in the Star-Ledger that showed how a record number of public workers are seeking permanent disability payments following a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.

“In 2007, the state Supreme Court dramatically lowered the standards required to collect a tax-free, accidental disability pension. In fact, since the decision the increase of accidental disability pensions issued is more than 35 percent,” Pennacchio said in a statement.

Pennacchio said that such legislation was originally proposed last year by Gov. Chris Christie as part of his pension reform proposal.

The changes in the bill include: an increase from four to ten years in the service credit that will be required before a member of PFRS or SPRS becomes available for an ordinary disability pension, and a restriction of disability awards to members who suffered injuries during regular and assigned duties.

Disability awards for willful negligence will be eliminated, according to Pennacchio.

“It is vitally important that the accidental disability system for police officers and firefighters be protected,” he said. “Allowing the current, lowered standards to continue reduces the amount of funds available for public safety workers legitimately injured in the line of duty. I believe, as the governor does, that these reforms will restore balance and fairness to the accidental disability pension system.

Pennacchio said that Democrats Sen. President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver have signaled a willingness to tackle the problem.

Pennacchio to introduce bill to address high number of accidental disability claims