Recent vetoes by Governor Chris Christie have left child welfare workers, emergency responders and public safety workers in the lurch, says Ann Twomey, president of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, the union that represents those workers.
Christie’s first veto squashed the so-called “Thomas P. Canzanella 21st Century First Responders Protection Act,” which would have made it simpler for first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits if they contracted life-threatening diseases because of exposure to hazardous or toxic substances. According to Twomey, first responders are frequently asked to go into public health crises without adequate knowledge of the toxins or other hazardous substances to which they will be exposed. Because New Jersey has a “highly concentrated chemical industry,” there are frequent leaks and other events where first responders are exposed to carcinogen, or infectious agents. The proposed law would have made it easier for them or their survivors to obtain workers’ compensation benefits.
Christie’s other veto nixed what was dubbed “Leah’s Law,” intended to protect social workers taking care of children at risk. Named after Leah Coleman, a social worker who almost died after a knife attack, would have provided for metal detectors, panic buttons and security personnel in all Department of Children and Families offices, and would have ensured an escort for all personnel going into homes with potentially threatening or dangerous situations. Christie said the statute would be too expensive, and noted that the state had enhanced security plans over the last year. Twomey said there had been no meaningful decline in the number of attacks on social workers.
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