Legislation that seeks to make people more comfortable with contact tracing by requiring any data that’s collected to be deleted after a month is in position for Assembly approval Thursday.

More than a dozen COVID-related bills are listed for votes at Thursday’s session, including a few endorsed Monday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Some of the bills generated opposition. Pamira Bezmen, who has also protested mask-wearing mandates at the end of Gov. Phil Murphy’s driveway, called contact tracing a high-tech surveillance system that will cost people money when they’re forced into unneeded quarantines.

“A lot of concerns about constitutionality, privacy, data security, lack of transparency, lack of necessity and lack of trust for high-tech contact tracing in New Jersey,” Bezmen said.

Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, said that if anything, the tracing data should be widely shared and kept permanently.

“And that’s having information, not hiding from information and certainly not destroying information that has great scientific value,” he said.

Conaway is sponsoring a bill scheduled for Thursday approval that would direct clinical labs to try to electronically record the race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identify of each patient.

“Let’s understand how diseases move across populations so that we can focus our prevention efforts on those populations that have particular arised needs,” Conaway said.

Another bill would require clinical laboratories to offer in-person specimen collection for diagnostic and serologic COVID-19 tests. Conaway said too much of the testing burden has fallen on hospitals and doctor’s offices and that there are more than 200 clinical lab locations around the state.

“One of the things we noted with some dismay is that some of the clinical laboratories with outlets across the state were really not in the game in terms of testing,” Conaway said.

Despite changes that spread out the cost over more employers, business groups continue to oppose a bill set for final approval that would say any essential worker who contracts COVID-19 would be presumed for workers’ compensation purposes to have gotten it on the job.

Gary La Spisa, vice president of the Insurance Council of New Jersey, said the bill must be limited to a time frame when it’s most likely a person’s exposure was work-related.

“Now that beaches and outdoor dining and amusement parks have been opened, it is becoming less and less likely that your exposure is due to your work,” La Spisa said.

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Eric Richard, legislative affairs director for the New Jersey State AFL-CIO, said the presumption is rebuttable, not automatic, if an employer has evidence that the illness was contracted elsewhere.

“There was an outbreak, we understand that from contact tracing, and that employer has the ability to bring that to a judge of workers’ compensation,” Richard said.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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