Legislation Assembly Democrats Bruce Land, Bob Andrzejczak, Gabriela Mosquera and Valerie Vainieri Huttle sponsored to identify and assist people in need of shelter during severe weather events received approval from the General Assembly on Thursday.
The bill (A-815) now heads to the governor.
"No one in New Jersey should have exposure to the elements be his or her cause of death. The mere notion of that is just unacceptable," said Land (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). "This legislation has the potential to save lives in New Jersey and help some of our most vulnerable residents as they try to get back on their feet."
"For individuals without a home, extreme weather can be life-threatening," said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May/Atlantic/Cumberland). "There's simply no excuse for a resident of New Jersey to suffer outside during a severe weather event when every county has the means to provide people with temporary shelter."
The bill directs certain county offices of emergency management to coordinate emergency services provided by municipal governments, social service agencies and non-profit organizations for the homeless during harsh weather conditions. The measure also would permit other appropriate state offices, agencies and departments, in addition to the Office of Emergency Management, to establish a plan for issuing a Code Blue alert at the behest of a county governing body. The legislation defines an "at-risk individual" as an individual living outdoors or in poorly-insulated settings who is at risk for weather-related exposure and possible death.
"Frigid winter temperatures are a sobering reminder of how dangerous the cold weather can be to those without adequate shelter," said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). "Making sure resources throughout the county are coordinated during these types of events will help cast a wider safety net to protect those in need."
The bill would require a county office of emergency management to coordinate with municipal emergency management coordinators in municipalities with a documented homeless population of at least 10 persons to develop consistent plans throughout the county that provide emergency warming centers during implementation of a Code Blue alert.
"This is about compassion and good governance," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "A concerted, coordinated effort between local, county and volunteer agencies will help ensure that the winter does not cast a shadow over those who are most susceptible to its elements."
The measure would make the county emergency management coordinator responsible for monitoring National Weather Service forecasts and would require issuance of a Code Blue alert if: a) temperatures will reach 25 degrees Fahrenheit or lower without precipitation; b) temperatures will reach 32 degrees Fahrenheit or lower with precipitation; or c) the National Weather Service wind chill temperature will be zero degrees or less for a period of two hours or more.
The issuance of an alert would trigger implementation of the county Code Blue alert plan, including the provision of emergency warming centers for at-risk individuals. These warming centers may be provided by designated volunteer organizations that would receive planning support from the county but operate autonomously in response to an alert.
The bill gives "Good Samaritan" protection from civil liability to a volunteer organization and its members and volunteers who, during implementation of a Code Blue alert plan, provide the services of an emergency warming center to at-risk individuals.
The bill, which the Senate approved 32-3 on Monday, was approved 65-6-3 by the Assembly.