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Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Freehold). (Photo: Assembly Majority Office).

Assembly panel to hear bill ending health care liability protections Monday

By Nikita Biryukov, May 14 2021 4:29 pm

The Assembly Health Committee will weigh a bill removing liability protections granted to for-profit health care facilities at the start of the pandemic on Monday after mounting pressure from residents over the legal shield.

The bill, originally introduced last August, has sat for months without action.

“I don’t think there was the will, honestly, to do anything with it for a while, and understandably,” said Assemblywoman Joann Downey (D-Freehold), its prime sponsor in the lower chamber.

The legal shield was enacted early into the pandemic, when knowledge about how to treat patients infected with COVID-19 was scant.

But it’s remained in place even after treatments and inoculations for the virus emerged, and advocates and lawyers have begun calling for the liability protections to go.

“Troubled facilities should remain subject to litigation,” Downey said. “There needs to be accountability.”

The assemblywoman said she intends to amend the bill to have the liability protections sunset 90 days after its enactment or with the end of the state’s public health emergency, whichever comes first.

Gov. Phil Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Woodbridge) on Friday announced the governor would allow the emergency declaration to lapse in mid-June if legislation providing his administration with unspecified powers to continue dealing with the pandemic was sent to his desk.

Sweeney on Thursday told the New Jersey Globe discussions on ending health care liability protections were just beginning, and the bill’s fate is still uncertain.

Legislative leadership hasn’t promised to take the bill to the floor, Downey said, though she saw the new movement as a reason for optimism.

“Do I have a formal commitment? No,” she said. “But I feel pretty good about it now that it’s going to be heard in the Health Committee that it’ll be able to be posted, if it passes, for a vote on the Assembly floor.”

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