Murphy Signs Bills Protecting Benefits For First Responders

Safeguards put in place for those who volunteered at Ground Zero and became sick, and for those claiming workers’ compensation

At the Central Railroad Terminal in Liberty State Park across from Ground Zero, Gov. Phil Murphy signed two bills aimed at helping first responders.

Bill Ricci was a Clifton firefighter who volunteered at the World Trade Center site in the days after 9/11. After contracting lung disease three years ago, he was denied a full disability pension because his volunteer work was not in the line of duty.

“I never thought it would be a career-ending sickness. After two years of multiple lung problems, I was finally told I could no longer fight fires. Wow. I was married with four children. I have a second mortgage on my home. Retirement was not an option. I tried to get back to work, seeing different doctors, but when I realized that this was not a choice, I was disheartened — even more so when I found out that my lung diseases weren’t going to be covered as an on-the-job injury because I went to Ground Zero on my own time. I was shocked and angry,” said Ricci.

The Bill Ricci Act signed by Murphy Monday morning reverses that.

“Any first responder whose career has been cut short because of their work at Ground Zero, whether paid or volunteer, deserves to be honored and given the dignity of a full accidental disability retirement,” Murphy said.

Thomas Canzanella was a Hackensack firefighter who also worked at Ground Zero. He died of a heart attack and brain aneurysm 12 years ago and was represented by his family Monday.

Shifting the burden of proof

The Thomas Canzanella Act shifts the burden of proof from the individual claiming harm to the employer.

“Tom may not be here with us, bless his heart, but I’m sure he’s looking down with a smile of satisfaction that firefighters suffering from certain types of cancer will now be presumed to have developed that condition during the course of their employment, meaning they will finally be eligible for workers’ compensation,” Murphy said.

“I’m just proud to be his daughter every single day. Thank you,” said daughter Allison Canzanella.

Former Gov. Chris Christie twice vetoed similar legislation, according to a firefighters union chief.

“This is 2019. It took all these years to get the legislation to a governor who would sign it,” said Ed Brannigan.

The playing of bagpipes underscored the solemnity of the occasion and the determination of lawmakers to get it right. “So that each and every first responder knows that we respect your dedication and service and the state of New Jersey is going to be here for you,” said Assemblywoman Annette Quijano.

Questions about budget decisions

After the signing Murphy took questions. He was asked about the funding he froze in the new budget and whether any of the decisions were punitive or vindictive. (Among those decisions: impounding cancer funds from Cooper University Hospital, run by George Norcross, with whom Murphy is feuding.) Murphy said no, all of them had three objective criteria.

“Three main factors: length of time a line item has been in and around the state budget, so the newer it is the more likely we’re going to scrutinize it. Secondly, the breadth of the population that it touches, whatever that line item might be. And thirdly, timing during the year, so is this money where you need all of it in July versus money that you can allow yourself to see whether or not you’re going to achieve savings, or better revenues, or find, as I say I think the easiest way here is a new revenue stream,” said Murphy.

The owner of a women’s soccer team, Murphy also said he supports equal pay for women players.

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