Last week, Gov. Murphy signed into law three pieces of legislation that impact local school districts.  One will enable people seeking to run for their local school board to submit petitions electronically. Another will ensure school districts and students in New Jersey are protected with proper liability insurance should they host graduation ceremonies in July or August.  The governor also enacted legislation designed to save public and private employers and workers money through furlough programs.  NJSBA supported each of the bills throughout the legislative process. All of the measures went into effect immediately upon the governor’s signature.

Electronic PetitionsA-4037/S-2433 (P.L.2020, c.55) requires an electronic process for the collection of petition signatures and their submission for all elections remaining in 2020 and thereafter for the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency.  The legislation specifically applies to petitions  submitted by any candidate, including a candidate for a board of education, or delegate, and for recall, initiative, and referendum petitions. The bill requires the Secretary of State to develop electronic forms to be used for signature collection and petition submission. The current deadline for filing nominating petitions for November 2020 school board candidacy is Monday, July 27.

The NJSBA actively advocated for passage of the measure, requested that it be posted for consideration, and gained clarifying amendments making it applicable to the November school board elections.  The NJSBA thanks the bill’s sponsors – Senator Vin Gopal, Assemblyman Eric Houghtaling and Assemblywoman Joann Downey – and the Legislature for swift action.

Graduation Insurance CoverageA-4227/S-2558 (P.L.2020, c.56) ensures insurance coverage for people attending school graduation exercises in July and August of 2020. This bill provides that people   attending school-sponsored graduation exercises held by a school district or charter high school between July 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2020 will, for purposes of insurance coverages afforded the school’s registered and enrolled student population beginning July 1, 2020 or for the purposes of insurance coverages afforded the school’s employees beginning on that date, be considered included in the enrolled and registered student population or be considered as a school employee, as applicable, while attending the graduation exercises.

Furlough Measure Signed, Following Conditional Veto  On July 2, Gov. Murphy also approved the “Employee Job-Sharing Furlough Protection Act,” a proposal championed by Senate President Steve Sweeney. The measure, A-4132/S-2350 (P.L.2020, c.57), aims to capitalize on increased federal benefits available to employers and employees under the federal CARES Act through December 31.

Earlier in the week, the bill was returned to the Legislature with recommended changes necessary to facilitate furloughs in lieu of layoffs. Both houses of the Legislature concurred with the Governor’s conditional veto recommendations and the bill was promptly signed into law. The law went into effect immediately and the program is available to all public, private and non-profit employers with 10 or more employees, including school districts.

The NJSBA supported the legislation and obtained an amendment that would specifically authorize boards of education and their contracted service providers to implement job-sharing furlough programs notwithstanding the law enacted in April (P.L.2020, c.27) requiring them to continue paying their employees during the current emergency as if schools were still open. Under that law, school districts and their contractors were essentially barred from making any staff cuts during the COVID-19 emergency.

The new law contains a clause enabling employers to launch job-sharing furlough programs in compliance with federal and state statutes, and have the enhanced benefits applied retroactively to the date of application. The CARES Act will provide federal reimbursement through Dec. 31 for the full cost of the partial state unemployment insurance benefits paid to employees participating in job-sharing furlough programs – which are about 16% higher than the benefits those employees would receive if they worked the same hours and were not part of a job-sharing program.

As of Monday, July 6, three weeks of eligibility remain under the CARES Act for employees participating in job-sharing programs to receive the extra $600 per week in unemployment assistance made available under the federal law.  Employers who want to enact job-sharing programs that divide the work in a way that enables more employees to take advantage of the last three weeks of the $600 payments should file applications dated this week. Applications are available on the N.J. Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s website and program officials can be emailed at sharedwork@dol.nj.gov .

Under New Jersey’s 2011 job-sharing law, employees participating in job-sharing furlough programs must work and be paid 40% to 90% of their regular salary for the 2 to 4.5 days of work they will perform, and they must continue to receive benefits. Employers must also get approval from their unions, if applicable. Public employees will continue to pay toward their full pension and health benefit costs as if they were working full-time.

Both the CARES Act and New Jersey’s job-sharing laws are intended to provide financial relief to both employers and employees and serve as incentives for employers to place workers on furlough rather than lay them off entirely. For example, an employer with 100 employees who was planning to lay off 20 workers could partially furlough them instead and have all employees work four days a week. Such employees would collect 80% of their regular salary, would get 12% more in state unemployment insurance benefits that would be paid for by the federal government, and also receive the $600 federal payment for the next three weeks until the benefit expires July 25. Employers will also save on reduced payroll costs as well as through the federal reimbursement of unemployment benefits.

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