Schepisi bill stopping volunteer firefighters from being furloughed continues to advance

TRENTON —Legislation Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi has championed for more than two years allowing local emergency volunteers to continue volunteering in their communities without fear of losing their state pension if they retire from their paying job continues to advance.

The bill (A1627) unanimously cleared by the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee in February. It passed unanimously in both houses of the Legislature last session, but was pocket vetoed by then Gov. Chris Christie without explanation

“As you are aware I have been, for quite a few years, trying to get this passed,” said Schepisi (R-Bergen). “Everybody knows volunteers are the lifeblood of our communities.”

An interpretation of IRS code requires retiring police officers, teachers, government employees also be separated from any position with the town for a minimum of six months in order to receive their pension payment. Volunteer firefighters, EMTs and other first-responders are being forced to resign or risk losing their pensions as a result.

Schepisi explained that volunteers and communities have been in a state of limbo due to inconsistent opinions from the pension board on whether a volunteer must stop providing services to a community in order to receive a pension upon retirement from an unrelated municipal job.

She has fought for the legislation she said because it protects the volunteers and mitigates the effect on towns that struggle to find and retain round-the-clock protection for their community.

“Volunteer first responders are critical to our communities,” said Bucco (R-Morris), a 37-year member of the Boonton Volunteer Fire Department. “They protect lives and property twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week while providing millions of dollars of tax savings for residents. A volunteer who saves someone in cardiac arrest or runs into a burning building to rescue a neighbor shouldn’t have to risk losing their retirement income. It’s absurd. This bill gives them the financial protections they deserve.”

Seventy-five percent of fire departments are all-volunteer in New Jersey, and 18 percent have paid and volunteer responders. There are 579 volunteer fire departments in the state and 49 career fire departments. The volunteers often hold paying jobs with local municipalities.

Other bill sponsors include Assemblymen Robert Auth (R-Bergen) and John DiMaio (R-Warren).