Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Jersey lawmakers try again on sick pay changes

NJ State Senate President Stephen Sweeney. (Akira Suwa  /  Staff Photographer)
NJ State Senate President Stephen Sweeney. (Akira Suwa / Staff Photographer)
Gov. Christie calls them "boat checks," and he has made clear over and over at his town hall meetings that he wants to put an end to payments to retiring public workers for not using their sick days.

On Friday, two state senators introduced a new effort to end huge payouts, but it does not look like it will satisfy Christie.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) and Republican Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R., Monmouth) introduced a bill to cap the payouts at $15,000 for retiring school and government employees.

"We can no longer sit idly by and wait for the issue to solve itself," they said in a joint statement. "We look forward to working with our colleagues in the Legislature and the governor to pass this law and start bringing some sanity to the whole process."

The Legislature has gone down this road before.

In 2010, lawmakers adopted a $15,000 cap and Christie vetoed it, saying he did not want to allow any payouts.

The Democrats who control both chambers of the Legislature offered to reduce the payout limit to $7,500, but Christie said he wouldn't go for that either. Advocates for allowing workers to get some payment say it's an incentive not to call out unless they are really sick.

Since 2010, lawmakers have introduced several variations on the bill, but none has gotten a vote of the full Senate or Assembly, partly because of a looming veto from Christie for measures that include payouts.

Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said in an e-mail Friday that "nothing's changed."

"Sick time is for when you are sick," Drewniak said. "It should have no additional value than that and should not be an extra retirement windfall. In other words, zero still means zero."

Kyrillos this week renewed his call for changing the system after Middletown Township authorized a nearly $250,000 payment for its retiring police chief for unused sick and vacation days.

Jeremy Rosen, a spokesman for Kyrillos, said that sparked the push to try legislation again.

In a statement, Kyrillos said he saw the bill with Sweeney as a step toward eventually eliminating any payouts.

Sweeney said Friday that he would like to eliminate payouts, but there is not enough support for that. "There's no reason we should at least not make progress," he said.

Geoff Mulvihill Associated Press
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