Greenwald: ‘Good Samaritan’ law will foster post-disaster inspections

TRENTON – One day before the anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, the Assembly Majority Leader called for action on disaster preparedness legislation he introduced nearly one year ago.

The “Good Samaritan’’ bill would protect professionals such as engineers or architects from liability when they volunteer in response to disasters such as a hurricane.

Without the shield offered by A3694, says Assemblyman Lou Greenwald, (D-6), Voorhees, these types of experts will be reluctant to step forward in the aftermath of the next Sandy.

The protection would be for 90 days, and the volunteer must work without pay and at the request of a public safety official.

Such professionals would still be liable for any gross negligence they committed.

“Nov everyone has the resources or dollars for a tragedy like this,’’ Greenwald said of Sandy, “but one thing they can bring to the table is skills.”

He hopes to usher through in the lame-duck session this bill that would address the situation in which New Jersey has more than 100 architects trained to do post-disaster inspections work in California but they can’t do it in their home state.

The regular complement of inspectors at towns and school districts was overwhelmed by the enormity of Sandy’s damage: 37 people killed, 346,000 homes damaged, nearly $30 billion in economic loss.

“There were a lot of bills introduced after Sandy hit,’’ Greenwald said.  “This is not about looking backward. When you have a storm that comes through and wipes out every road in the community, there are not enough hours in the day, not enough days in a week, not enough weeks in a month, not enough months in a year to get done what has to be done.”

Politics – ghosts of policy debates past – was not absent from today’s proceedings.

“Every community is hamstrung because of the property tax crisis in this state,’’ Greenwald said, adding that local inspectors are among the first line of personnel cut when towns are handcuffed because of the 2 percent tax cap.

The professionals who accompanied Greenwald today are focused with unshackling the bureaucratic handcuffs and helping victims throughout the state.

“It’s only a matter of time before New Jersey is hit by another disaster,’’ said Jack Purvis, president of the N.J. chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

And Bob Thiel, president of the N.J. Society of Professional Engineers, said disasters such as Sandy “can wreak havoc on a state’s transportation infrastructure. Everyone who is capable should be ready to offer their services.”

Greenwald and the experts said today that in New York City after Sandy, 400 architects wanted to help their state, but the risk of liability prevented most of them from reaching out. In Alabama, meanwhile, which has a Good Samaritan law, more than 200 professionals had their boots on the ground after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Twenty-six states altogether have Good Samaritan style laws.

“There is an impact of a family that’s been out of their home for close to a year, and they can’t get someone out there to do the necessary inspection,” Greenwald said. “There is a ripple effect, the loss of the economic engine for New Jersey, and the disruption in those lives.”

The clause in the bill regarding gross negligence is there to protect consumers, Greenwald said, and the bulk of the bill protects those professionals who want to step forward.

The bill’s co-sponsors include Assembly members Amy Handlin, (R-13), Red Bank, and Mila Jasey, (D-27), Maplewood. The bill is before the Assembly Regulated Professions Committee. 

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Greenwald: ‘Good Samaritan’ law will foster post-disaster inspections