Making New Jersey more affordable has been the focus of NJBIA’s advocacy efforts over the last several days as the Senate passed legislation addressing the cost and preparation required to go to college, and an Assembly committee began the difficult task of figuring out how best to rein in out-of-network healthcare costs. State leaders are also looking to rejoin a greenhouse gas reduction program, which NJBIA opposes because of its impact on energy costs.
Here are the details:
Out-of-network Healthcare Costs
A-2039 (Coughlin, D-19; Schaer, D-36)
Heard for discussion in Assembly Financial Institutions and Insurance Committee Feb. 5
NJBIA position: support
Legislation to rein in the cost of surprise out-of-network healthcare bills is back after a similar bill nearly received final passage last year. With the new session, however, lawmakers must start from the beginning with committee hearings and votes.
Out-of-network healthcare costs sometimes surprise patients with large hospital or doctor bills for care they believed was covered by their insurance plan, either because a medical emergency forced them to use the nearest healthcare facility or a member of their treatment team was not part of the network.
In trying to balance the interests of healthcare providers and consumers alike, NJBIA has supported out-of-network reforms that increase transparency and provide for fair, independent resolution of disputes.
Out-of-network costs play an increasingly significant role in the rising cost of healthcare for both large and small employers in New Jersey, triggering both higher premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, NJBIA Vice President Mary Beaumont told the committee. “Some employers fear that the next renewal will force them to drop coverage because the rate increase will be more than they can cope with,” she said in testimony prepared for the committee.
Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI)
S-611/S-874 (Sweeney, D-3; Smith, D-17; Bateman, R-16)
Approved by Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Feb. 5.
NJBIA position: oppose
New Jersey withdrew from this regional cap-and-trade program five years ago, but the new governor and legislative leaders are vowing to rejoin the nine-state compact to reduce greenhouse gases. NJBIA opposes rejoining RGGI because New Jersey already has the lowest emissions in the PJM energy grid. Meanwhile, compliance costs imposed on the state energy generators will likely be absorbed by residents and businesses. In other words, New Jersey would pay a price but see little benefit.
Nuclear Diversity Certificate Program
S-877 (Sweeney, D-3; Smith, D-17);
Bill held in Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee Feb. 5
NJBIA Position: Seeking amendments
Legislation to create a program to support nuclear energy was expanded to include a wide range clean energy programs, including zero emission credits, battery storage, energy efficiency portfolio standards, incentives for wind energy, changes to the renewable portfolio standards, and changes to the Solar Renewal Energy Credit (SREC) market, among others.
A planned committee vote was postponed to give legislators and interested parties more time to study the substantial changes made to the original bill.
Public Access to Tidal Waterways
S-1074 (Smith, D-17; Bateman, R-16)
Approved by Senate Environment and Energy Committee Feb. 5
NJBIA position: support
NJBIA won an amendment to legislation providing access to tidal waterways that would exempt critical infrastructure from the requirements. As NJBIA’s Sara Bluhm explained, “While we can and should protect the public’s right to access the state’s shores, rivers and bays, we also must recognize that some areas need to be off limits. ” Specifically, the amendment would exclude properties that provide critical infrastructure, as determined by the NJ Department of Homeland Security, and specific federal requirements.
Facilities like ports, power plants and nuclear energy facilities near waterways are unsuitable for public access because of safety concerns. These amendments will protect public safety without meaningfully impacting the public’s right to enjoy our waters and shoreline.
College Affordability Bills
Passed Senate Feb. 1
NJBIA position: Support
These four bills would help make in-state college more affordable. As NJBIA’s recent report on millennial outmigration indicated, making college and post-secondary education more affordable is one of the ways New Jersey can attract and retain the educated workers it will need in the future.
The four bills passed by the Senate are:
- S-762 (Cunningham, D-31; Sweeney, D-3; Singer, R-30 ), which would require high school graduation requirements to include instruction on tuition assistance programs and student loan debt, and require high school students to meet with their guidance counselor to discuss tuition assistance and dual enrollment;
- S-770 (Cunningham, D-31; Sweeney, D-3; Kean, R-21), which would allow students to use tuition assistance grant awards during summer session;
- S-869 (Sweeney, D-3; Cunningham, D-31; Oroho, R-24), which would permit three-plus-one degree programs, where students go to county college for three years and then to a four-year institution for their senior year; and
- S-1136 (Gill, D-34), which would provide a tax deduction for taxpayers who make student loan payments, allowing the same deduction from state gross income tax as the federal government does for federal income taxes.