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Sweeney Introduces Measure to End Future Sick Leave Payouts

Senator Steve Sweeney
Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media NJ

New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney on Tuesday introduced a bill to curtail the practice of public employees cashing out sick time when they retire.

The measure would allow workers to keep the amount of money they’ve accrued. However, they would not be permitted to bank any more sick leave after the measure becomes law.

Christie wants to eliminate the cash value. Democratic Sen. Paul Sarlo, who sponsored a previous bill, wanted to allow retiring government employees to cash out a nominal amount. Sarlo said that would have discouraged employees from using up their sick leave every year.

The legislation came about after abuses in the system came to light whereby retiring employees were cashing out hundreds of days of accumulated sick time. The payouts were at times so large they were straining local government budgets.

In late 2010, Christie vetoed a bill to allow for a $15,000 payout cap going forward. Sarlo countered with a proposal to cap it at $7,500 but Christie wouldn’t bend.

At town hall events, Christie started to refer to the payouts as “boat checks” because some retirees who worked in the public sector and banked their sick time were using the payments to buy boats.

Sweeney has previously said he believes workers should have to use of lose sick time. Neither Sweeney nor Sarlo were available for comment on Tuesday. Christie’s office did not immediately reply to requests for comment.

Proposals to curb payouts of unused sick pay time:

ISSUE: Gov. Chris Christie and New Jersey state lawmakers both say large payouts for unused sick-time leave are costing too much and need to stop,. But there are competing ideas about how the benefits should be cut.

COST: The Christie administration has estimated the current value of accumulated sick and vacation payout liability for municipalities statewide is $825 million.

ACTION: In December 2010, Christie vetoed a bill to allow for a $15,000 payout cap going forward, saying employees should be paid for being healthy. He tried to force current employees to draw down on their banked time when taking future vacation or sick days, but backed down after legal concerns were raised.

PREVIOUS BILLS: Democrats have competing ideas. Following Christie’s veto, Sen. Paul Sarlo and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt offered a bill to cap the payouts at $7,500. They have since offered a compromise to allow new employees to negotiate for payouts of up to $7,500 but not make it mandatory.

NEW BILL: Senate President Steve Sweeney introduced a bill that’s more closely in line to the governor’s proposal, allowing employees to keep the time they have banked but halting payouts for unused sick-time going forward. Employees can still rollover sick time and use it for illnesses, but can’t cash it out once they leave.

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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