By Laura French
TRENTON, N.J. — A proposed New Jersey law would allow firefighters and police officers in the state to retire early with pension benefits, but without healthcare.
The proposal, dubbed the “burnout bill,” would no longer require firefighters and police officers to be at least 55 years old to receive a pension; instead, personnel can retire after 20 years and immediately receive benefits, according to WOBM. However, health benefits would not be included.
The bill cleared a committee hearing earlier this month. Representatives from first responder organizations and unions testified at the hearing in support of the bill.
“There’s a real level of stress that comes with being in police and fire. And individuals will get to the point in their career where they’ve just taken as much as they can,” said Rob Nixon, a lobbyist for the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, at the hearing. “This restores that eligibility, and it ensures that those officers who simply must go have the opportunity to do so.”
County and municipal officials opposed the proposal, saying the increased cost of funding pensions for early retirees will put a strain on the state Police and Firemen’s Retirement System, which is currently about 70% funded.
“We really need to get our fund healthy because it helps not only us as employers, but it helps the fund members as well,” Lori Buckelew, senior legislative analyst at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, testified.
Proponents of the bill disagreed, with N.J. State Fraternal Order of Police Executive Vice President Robert Gries pointing out that only about 1% of eligible personnel took advantage of a similar law applying to those enrolled in public pension before January 2000. He added that removing the need to provide retiree health benefits would save money.