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Vainieri Huttle, Benson & Giblin Bill to Require Emergency Response Plan for Developmental Disabilities' Service Providers Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – To ensure care providers that serve New Jersey residents with developmental disabilities are prepared for public emergencies, legislation that would require the creation of emergency response plans by the state was approved Thursday by the Assembly Human Services Committee.
          The measure (A-4138) would require the Department of Human Services, in consultation with the Department of Health, the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families, and the State Office of Emergency Management in the Department of Law and Public Safety, to develop and oversee implementation of a public emergency response plan for licensed providers serving individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. The plan would be created and executed within 30 days of the bill’s enactment.
          The bill is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Daniel Benson and Thomas Giblin.
          “No one was fully prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, including our developmental centers,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). “It’s critical that we make sure providers have a roadmap of best practices and standards to follow going forward so that we may better protect our most vulnerable.”
          A public emergency response plan under the bill must include, at a minimum:
·       Establish guidelines and best practices for operations, activities and procedures;
·       Identify means, methods and channels so they may obtain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE);
·       And other resources necessary to operate and provide services during a public emergency;
·       Address various possible emergency scenarios and provide appropriate best practices to handle different types of public emergencies, and; 
·       Be consistent with and incorporate any guidance published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and any other federal agencies involved in the remediation of public emergencies.
          “Providers that serve individuals with developmental disabilities face unique challenges in combating the spread of COVID-19,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “Social distancing, wearing face coverings and frequent hand-washing may be more difficult for people with sensory, cognitive or physical impairments. That’s why it’s so important for providers to have a plan in place to guide residents in practicing these standard precautions.”
          “The virus is known to spread in congregate living settings, and sadly, we’ve seen this happen at alarming rates in our developmental centers,” said Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic). “Even more concerning, people with disabilities are at a higher risk of experiencing complications from COVID-19. We must take action to ensure this doesn’t happen again, particularly as we prepare for a potential second wave of COVID-19 in the fall.”
          Additionally, under the bill, the emergency response plan would be reviewed on a biennial basis and as soon as possible following the declaration of a public emergency. A copy of the plan would be posted online.
          The measure now goes to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration. 

Assembly Committee Passes Bill to Improve Accessibility of Telehealth and Telemedicine Services

To improve access and affordability of care delivered remotely, Assembly Democrats Joann Downey, Herb Conaway, Eric Houghtaling, Daniel Benson and Robert Karabinchak sponsor legislation to provide expanded coverage for telemedicine and telehealth services. The measure was approved by the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday.

Specifically, the bill (A-4179/4200) would require New Jersey health benefits plans, Medicaid and NJ FamilyCare, and the State Health Benefits Programs and School Employees’ Health Benefits Program to reimburse medical providers for telehealth and telemedicine services at the same rate as for equivalent in-person care in New Jersey.

“If a doctor can provide the same quality of services virtually that they can in person, there’s no reason for insurance plans to discriminate by lowering that doctor’s reimbursement,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “We’ve seen throughout this pandemic that many services can be provided equally well through virtual means, often at lower cost and greater convenience to all parties involved.”

Current law provides that telemedicine and telehealth services may be reimbursed up to the amount at which in-person service is reimbursed.

“Our COVID-responsive expansions of telehealth and telemedicine were significant in spurring the implementation of remote care technologies,” said Conaway (D-Burlington). “Ensuring we can take advantage of this proliferation beyond the pandemic will be critical to providing better, well-rounded care.”

The bill would also prohibit health plans from limiting where care provided via telehealth and telemedicine could originate from, and from restricting the use of electronic or technological platforms if services meet the in-person standard of care and comply with certain federal health privacy rules.

“The challenge to successful delivery of virtual care has always been its expense,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “Equalizing reimbursement rates as this bill does allows more equitable costs to be passed on to patients making remote consultation a more cost-effective option.”

“This legislation paves the way for New Jersey to innovate and better address the broad spectrum of healthcare needs that exist,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex).

“Expanding access to different modes of care is critical to raise the quality of care provided in New Jersey,” said Karabinchak (D-Middlesex). “Particularly when it comes to underserved and aging communities, who may be especially challenged by the need to travel for an in-person doctor’s appointment.”

The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.

Benson,Murphy & Vainieri Huttle Bill to Expand Access to NJ Transit Reduced Fare Program for Access Link Riders Passes Assembly

(TRENTON) – With the goal to help more disabled New Jerseyans who use NJ TRANSIT’s Access Link paratransit service take advantage of the agency’s reduced fare program, the full Assembly on Thursday voted 78-0 to approve legislation to expand access to the program.

          The measure (A-2456) would provide that a person eligible for Access Link – a paratransit service through NJ TRANSIT for people with disabilities – would automatically be eligible for NJ TRANSIT’s reduced fare program for seniors and disabled passengers. Access Link riders would be issued a NJ TRANSIT Reduced Fare ID when they are deemed eligible for Access Link.

Bill sponsors, Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex), Carol Murphy (D-Burlington) and Valerie Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen) released the following joint statement:

 

Access Link serves our most vulnerable, including seniors and people with disabilities who would otherwise have difficulty using public transportation. Access Link riders usually are also eligible for NJ TRANSIT’s reduced fare program and may not realize it. There’s currently no coordination between these two programs, so riders often miss out. By linking the programs together so that recipients receive their ID card when they enroll in Access Link, we can ensure more people will take advantage of this important program.”

 

The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

Zwicker, Benson & Mukherji Measure to Increase Awareness for Vote-By-Mail and Boost Efficiency Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact New Jersey, the July primary election will be conducted predominantly by mail with each registered Democrat and Republican automatically receiving a ballot and all other registered voters receiving an application for a mail-in ballot. If the pandemic continues through the fall, more voters may choose to vote by mail than in past elections.

          To increase public awareness of vote-by-mail and implement safeguards to improve the system’s efficiency, legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Raj Mukherji was approved by the Assembly State and Local Government Committee on Wednesday.

          “It’s critical that we balance the interest of voting by mail with a system that is both fair and efficient,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “Under this legislation, the particular goal is to ensure every person registered and able to vote has the information they need. It works to ensure the voice of our electorate continues to be heard, whether people choose to vote by mail or to head to the polls. As the coronavirus pandemic has shown us, getting VBM right and getting mailed-in ballots properly counted is vital.”

          The measure (A-3591) would require the New Jersey Secretary of State to raise public awareness for vote by mail by preparing informational posters for use at all polling places; include information with mail-in ballots for how the voter can check the status of their ballot; and provide educational materials to county board of elections employees on the standards for acceptance and rejection of mail-in ballots.

          Under current law, county boards of elections are required to retain voted mail-in ballots for two years. This bill would clarify that ballots received 48 hours after the polls close, along with their envelopes, should also be retained for two years. It would also prohibit the rejection of mail-in ballots that have missing or insufficient glue on the outer or inner envelopes.

          “Voting is among our most important rights and responsibilities in this country, and it should be easily accessible to all,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the need for us to raise awareness for vote-by-mail and make improvements to ensure every vote is fairly counted.”

“Voter apathy and low turnout are grave threats to our democracy, and even more so during a pandemic. Expansion of vote-by-mail and ensuring its fairness and efficiency can help combat those threats,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “By allowing our citizens who may not be able to make it to the ballot box in person, from people with disabilities to workers without paid time off to the elderly or immunocompromised, we must allow their voices to be heard. It is imperative that we increase awareness and ensure fair counting in preparation for a surge in mailed ballots.”

Additionally under the bill, every mail-in ballot that does not have a postmark date but is received by a county board by the United States Postal Service within 48 hours after the polls close should be considered valid and must be canvassed.

The measure now heads to the Assembly Speaker for further consideration.

Zwicker,Benson & Sumter Bill to Safeguard Contact Tracing Data Collected for Covid-19 Clears Joint Committee Panel

As contact tracing moves to the forefront of New Jersey’s COVID-19 public health response, residents are understandably concerned about their privacy. To safeguard and restrict use of data collected for contact tracing, the Assembly Science, Innovation and Technology and Assembly Community Affairs and Development committee panels advanced legislation on Tuesday.

The bill (A-4170) is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Daniel Benson and Shavonda Sumter. It stipulates that any public health entity collecting data on someone for contact tracing during the COVID-19 pandemic can only use it for that specific purpose and must delete the data 30 days after receiving it.

“Contact tracing has long been an important part of controlling the spread of a contagious disease,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset). “To that end, people need to know what contact tracing is, how it works, and most importantly that the information requested won’t be shared or stored for reasons beyond the immediate goal: saving lives.”

The legislation would require the same level of protection for contact tracing data shared by public health entities with a third party. Misuse or unlawful disclosure of this data by a third party would result in liability for a civil penalty of up to $10,000.

“Establishing that contact tracing data goes nowhere beyond where it needs to go is about transparency and trust,” said Benson (D-Mercer, Middlesex). “If we expect people to share their every move or social interaction with us, they need to know that personal data will be protected and that their privacy is our number one priority too.”

This measure also requires the Commissioner of Health to publish guidance online regarding how collected data may be used and how its security and confidentiality must be ensured. A mechanism where the public can submit comments over a 30-day period must be provided before any guidance can be finalized.

“Building public trust to share sensitive data is essential,” said Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic). “It works hand in hand with allowing the public to be a partner in decision making and in developing clear guidance on the use of people’s data. Information is power.”

Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come into contact with someone that has tested positive for COVID-19, notifying them of their risk and providing support services. It can be done manually with verbal interviews or by using digital data and smartphone technologies such as Bluetooth and GPS.

The bill now goes to the Speaker for further consideration.

Princeton Dinky Fare Discount is Restored and Extended

PRINCETON, NJ - Assemblyman Daniel R. Benson (D-Hamilton), Chair of the Assembly Transportation and Independent Authorities Committee, issued the following statement regarding a fare discount extension for Princeton Dinky train riders. NJ TRANSIT has announced a 25% discount on bus fares from the Princeton Dinky station to Princeton Junction until full restoration of rail service, at which point the discount will be extended for an additional month to offset full cost fares in February:

“I would like to thank and commend Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert and Assemblyman Roy Freiman, District 16, for their successful efforts in securing a 25% ticket discount to NJ TRANSIT riders of the currently suspended Princeton Dinky Line. Their patience and diligence on this issue ensured that their constituent’s concerns were addressed as quickly as possible. I would also like to applaud NJ TRANSIT on this decision. I greatly appreciate their willingness to listen to commuters. This discount will match that of the also-suspended Atlantic City Line. More information should be coming shortly from NJ TRANSIT regarding how and when riders may purchase discounted tickets. I will continue working with all stakeholders as we provide necessary oversight of NJ TRANSIT. This includes advocating for full restoration of all suspended rail service as soon as possible; but no later than the 2nd quarter of this year, as promised.”

Information on how to obtain the discount can be found at the NJ Transit website.  

Assembly Panel Oks Benson, Andrzejczak & Land Bill to Establish Schedule for Require Internet, Cable Service to Reach More Residents

An Assembly panel on Monday approved legislation that would expand the areas required to have access to cable and internet service. The bill (A-1451) is sponsored by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Bob Andrzejczak and Bruce Land. 

"Reliable access to internet and cable service for many residents is not as obtainable as one may think," said Benson (D- Mercer, Middlesex). "There are still many areas in the state, mostly rural and densely populated communities that rely on wireless, or an antiquated dial-up service for the internet. This legislation develops a time table for cable companies to ensure that these areas are provided access to reliable, high-speed internet sooner rather than later."

Benson, Houghtaling, Moriarty Bill to Increase Penalties for Slamming Practices Clears Assembly Panel

Bipartisan legislation sponsored in-part by Assembly Democrats Daniel Benson, Eric Houghtaling, and Paul Moriarty to strengthen state law against energy "slamming" practices was released on Monday by the Assembly Telecommunications panel.

Energy "slamming" is a practice that involves changing consumers' electric power or gas supplier without their knowledge or consent. 

Assembly Transportation Chair Benson on Governor's Executive Order Calling for NJ Transit Comprehensive Audit

Assemblyman Daniel Benson (Mercer, Middlesex) issued the following statement supporting the Governor's Executive Order calling for an audit on NJ Transit operations:

"This audit will bring actionable insight into NJ Transit's day to day operations. That is exactly what we need to get NJ Transit operating more effectively and safely again.

In Wake of Trenton Water Works Issues, Greenstein, DeAngelo & Benson Request Joint Meeting With DEP, BPU

Senator Linda R. Greenstein, Assemblyman Wayne P. DeAngelo and Assemblyman Daniel R. Benston (all D-Middlesex and Mercer) today sent a letter to Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner-designate Catherine McCabe and Board of Public Utilities President Joseph Fiordaliso requesting a meeting to discuss the water problems at Trenton Water Works and to seek solutions to the "ongoing, growing problems to ensure the health and safety of our constituents."