Capitol Report

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June 17, 2019

This is a status report provided by the New Jersey State Bar Association on recently passed and pending legislation, regulations, gubernatorial nominations and/or appointments of interest to lawyers, as well as the involvement of the NJSBA as amicus in appellate court matters.

While budget showdown looms, key legislation moves through

While leaders fight it out over dark money and a millionaire’s tax, bills revising expungement procedures and workers’ compensation supplemental benefits now await the governor’s signature. The NJSBA supported measures to revise expungement procedures and withdrew opposition on the workers’ compensation bill.

The “Cunningham Cleanse,” as the expungement bill has been christened, was voted out of the Assembly last week with a vote of 50-15-6. S-3205 (Cunningham) boasts a streamlined expungement process for certain criminal convictions by broadening a person’s eligibility. The bill focuses on the treatment of various marijuana offenses, in anticipation of a vote on expanded marijuana laws in New Jersey. The bill would also create an expedited process for such expungements.

“If we are ever going to have a justice system truly based on rehabilitation, those who have been convicted must have a fair shot at life after having served their debt to society,” said Senator Sandra Cunningham.

The NJSBA supported an expungement process within the context of the recreational marijuana bill earlier this year, and remains committed to working with the Legislature to streamline and address any future concerns as the process is implemented, if enacted into law.

S-1967 (Sweeney) also awaits the governor’s signature after the Assembly voted to concur with the governor’s recommendations when he conditionally vetoed the bill last month. The revised bill extends the weekly supplemental benefits paid to those who were injured or to the surviving dependents of those who died before Jan. 1, 1980, to also include any public safety worker who suffers a work-related total disability and to the surviving dependents of any public safety worker who dies because of a workplace injury after Dec. 31, 1979.

The governor sent the bill back with recommendations to address the interplay with the Federal Social Security Act, which could potentially limit a person’s recovery so that he or she is worse off than if the bill were not enacted. New Jersey is one of a few ‘reverse offset’ states, as defined under the Federal Social Security Act. That means an individual’s workers’ compensation benefit—and not the Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefit—will be reduced when necessary to preclude a combined payment in excess of the 80 percent limit set by federal law. Under federal law, a permanently disabled individual under retirement age is prohibited from receiving combined workers’ compensation and SSDI benefits of more than 80 percent of the individual’s wages prior to becoming totally disabled. In other states, SSDI benefits are reduced by the amount an injured worker is receiving through the state’s workers’ compensation benefits.

The last three budgets proposed by President Donald Trump have called for the elimination of the reverse offset laws. “If New Jersey were to lose its reverse offset status, the fiscal repercussions on the affected State funds could significantly harm the disabled workers and their families who rely upon these benefits,” said Governor Murphy in his conditional veto message. Noting that if New Jersey lost its reverse offset status, many disabled public safety workers would not actually see an increase in their total compensation from the supplemental benefits contained in this bill, Murphy recommended amendments that would limit supplemental benefit payments to the dependents of public safety workers killed in the line of duty. These benefits are not governed by the federal statutory provisions governing the reverse offset and, therefore, those recipients would “stand to realize an immediate and substantial benefit from this pension offset required under current law.”