Below is a legislative update on the bills moving in the New Jersey Legislature, which typically considers a flurry of bills before the budget is finalized by June 30th:
- A1257, which requires school buses transporting students using wheelchairs to be equipped with four-point securement system, and requires the school bus operator to secure students using wheelchairs, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Marine Caride (D-36); it passed the Assembly 76-0. NJACP is monitoring the bill. The bill now heads to the Senate Education Committee.
- A4468, which concerns Early Intervention Support Services program in DHS and expansion of program to all counties, is sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schear (D-36); it passed the Assembly 74-2. The bill provides the crisis intervention and stabilization services needed to help prevent the recurrence of a crisis and reduce over-utilization of hospital emergency departments for a behavioral health crisis. NJACP supports the bill because it provides early intervention for behavioral health services, which impacts individuals with co-occurring disorders. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
- A4498, which expands health insurance coverage for behavioral health services and autism, and enhances enforcement and oversight of mental health parity laws, is sponsored by Assemblyman Craig Coughlin (D-19); it passed the Assembly 68-5 with 5 abstentions. The bill amends several statutes, initially enacted in 1999, which require hospital, medical and health service corporations, individual and group health insurers and the State Health Benefits Program to provide coverage for biologically-based mental illness under the same terms and conditions as provided for any other sickness. The bill expands that coverage to include coverage for behavioral health care services and autism. NJACP is monitoring the bill, which is now heading to the Senate Commerce Committee.
- S2721, which implements person-first language and changes pejorative terminology referring to persons with certain disabilities or substance use disorders, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-37) and Senator Joe Vitale (D-19); it passed in the Assembly 76-0. NJACP supports the legislation. Having already passed the Senate, it now heads to the Governor’s Desk for his signature.
- A3386, which provides protections for children under the age of 18 with developmental disabilities, and individuals with developmental disabilities ages 18- 21 receiving services from the Division of Children’s System of Care, is sponsored by Assemblyman Gary Schaer (D-36) and Assemblywoman Valerie Huttle (D-37); it was released by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. The legislation improves coordination between DHS and DCF with regard to abuse and neglect investigations. NJACP supports the bill as it now heads to the Senate floor.
- S2466, which requires development and maintenance of a data dashboard report to advise of open bed availability in residential facilities providing behavioral health services, is sponsored by Senator Joe Vitale (D-19); it was released from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. NJACP supports the bill and is considering the need for similar legislation on the DDD side for vacancies. The bill now heads to the Senate floor, having already passed the Assembly.
- S1018, which establishes minimum Medicaid reimbursement rate for personal care services, sponsored by Senator Loretta Weinberg, was released from the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. NJACP supports the concept of the legislation, which creates a floor for Medicaid rates to avoid the arbitrary reduction of rates below a certain level by managed care companies (as has happened in NJ with personal care services). While providers are not in managed care currently, the system will be important if/when fee for service transitions to managed care. The bill now heads to the Senate floor, having already passed the Assembly.
- A3480, which concerns employer inquiries about worker’s wage and salary experience, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-11); it was released from the Senate Labor Committee. This bill amends the “Law Against Discrimination” to strengthen protections against employment discrimination and thereby promote equal pay for women by prohibiting any employer from:
- screening a job applicant based on the applicant’s wage or salary history, including requiring the applicant’s prior wages, salaries or benefits to satisfy any minimum or maximum criteria, or relying on the applicant’s salary in determining a salary amount for the applicant at any stage in the hiring process, including finalizing the employment contract;
- inquiring, in writing or otherwise, about the salary history of a job applicant, including, but not limited to, the applicant’s compensation and benefits, except that the employer may seek the history if the prospective employee voluntarily, without employer coercion, provides the employer with a written authorization; and
- taking reprisals against any employee for disclosing to any other employee or former employee of the employer information regarding the job title, occupational category, rate of compensation, the gender, race, ethnicity, military status, or national origin of the employee or any other employee or former employee of the employer.
NJACP is monitoring the bill and it now heads to the Senate floor and has already passed the Assembly.
NJACP Opposes Stephen Komninos Legislation
In addition to advocating for increased DSP wages, June 1st was a busy day in Trenton with NJACP CEO, Valerie Sellers, testifying in opposition to S-516, which is intended to provide protections and improve transparency in the system serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, but actually legislates onerous, unnecessary and duplicative oversight in a system already equipped with several layers of oversight and quality controls.
The bill was heard on June 1st in the Senate Budget Committee, which primarily considers the fiscal issues involved with legislation. Several parents of children with IDD testified in support of the bill, which, however well intended, is harmful to the people and system it is meant to protect. A much better approach to sustaining quality services is to increase the pay of DSP’s. In her testimony, Ms. Sellers commented, “It is appalling that we pay people $15 an hour to work at McDonald’s and yet we only pay our DSP’s an average of $10.50 an hour.” Valerie also emphasized that many states, such as Maryland and Pennsylvania, among others, have chosen to deal with their staffing crisis by raising rates so agencies could pay more. These states have lower turnover than New Jersey (where turnover is 44%). Finally, she noted that “If we do nothing, then we will continue to have this churning within the DSP workforce.” Senator Tony Bucco (R-25) commented that he believes the Legislature needs to address the issues in S-516 as well as the DSP wage crisis.
The bill was released from the Senate Budget Committee on a unanimous vote with an appropriation of $35 million. The bill now heads to the Senate floor for a vote. NJACP continues to advocate for legislation that better reflects the needs of the system and the people served. There are several amendments NJACP believes will improve the bill. Members are encouraged to be alert for any calls for action in relation to the bill.
Assembly Health Committee Advances Amended Telemedicine Bill
The Assembly Health Committee approved A-1464 on June 12th that would define and regulate the practice of telemedicine. New Jersey is one of only 2 states, along with Alabama, that lacks a legal definition for these remote electronic consultations between doctors and patients, according to the Center for Connected Health Policy. The committee adopted a substitute version of the bill (A1464), although copies of the changes were not immediately available at Monday’s hearing. The Senate advanced a version of the measure (S291) last fall, but it was pulled from the Assembly Health Committee in February over disagreements related to the amendments.
“Nothing is a perfect bill,” Democratic Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, a prime sponsor, testified at the hearing. “We put in some extra precautions, like adding a commission that would sunset after a few years, so that they can then evaluate how we are doing.” Assemblyman Herb Conaway, chairman of the Health Committee and one of the bill’s sponsors, read a summary of the changes.
In addition to the commission, which would review the impact of telemedicine in the state, the amendments also require that companies practicing telemedicine register with the state Department of Health. The companies would also have to transmit data, such as the age, race, sex, and location of patients using the service, as well as billing information, such as charges and reimbursements. The state Department of Banking and Insurance would be prohibited from allowing insurers to apply telemedicine services to satisfy network adequacy requirements.
There has also been a change to the provision dealing with payment for telemedicine services. The Senate version of the bill included language specifying that insurers needed to provide coverage “at the same rate that is applicable when the services are delivered through in-person contact and consultation.”The new payment provision stipulates that reimbursement rates for telemedicine would not exceed the rate for an in-person visit in New Jersey. The bill was released from committee by a vote of 11-0, as reported by Politico.
Allen Introduces New Pay Equity Bill
After months of negotiations with Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-37) and Gov. Chris Christie’s office, state Senator Diane Allen (D-7) has decided to move ahead with a new pay equity bill despite a sticking point to which Weinberg is not ready to concede.
The previous proposal would have allowed victims of gender pay discrimination to claim three-fold damages and back wages dating back to the beginning of the discrimination. Christie, in his conditional veto, proposed limiting back pay to two years, consistent with federal law.
According to a draft of the new proposal, victims would be eligible for double damages — a compromise which Weinberg has agreed to, said Allen, a moderate Republican from Burlington County who successfully sued her employer over age and sex discrimination in the 1990s. The new proposal would also continue to cap back pay to two years, except in certain instances where the victims should not have been expected to know they were being discriminated against. “If an aggrieved person did not and should not have known through reasonable diligence of the discrimination … until up to two years preceding the filing of the complaint, that aggrieved person may obtain back pay for up to the entire period of time in which a violation … occurred,” the draft legislation reads.
The new bill also would be less onerous for businesses, requiring “They keep records of employee compensations and to provide documents to the state only if an investigation was launched by the Department of Labor”, Allen said. “The previous proposal called on all businesses to submit records, whether or not someone had requested an investigation,” she said.
There is one sticking point with the legislation, though neither Allen nor Weinberg would discuss the specifics. Allen said that the two were “very close” to reaching an agreement. But Weinberg, who said Friday that she had yet to review the draft legislation, seemed to suggest otherwise, describing the difference as “substantial.” She said that the disagreement — which has do with the standards under which one could file a claim — was actually between her and the governor’s office. Weinberg said she has not negotiated directly with the governor’s office, only through Allen, according to Politico.
Weinberg said she plans to meet at least once more with Allen to see if they can come to a resolution before the last voting session in June. Allen acknowledged she did not know yet if Weinberg would ultimately support the bill, but she believes it is agreeable to staff in Christie’s office, as reported by Politico. NJACP is monitoring the legislation.