How do you know when a piece of legislation misses the point?
When the people affected by the legislation turn out in droves to warn the state Legislature of the unintended consequences of the bill — in this case, that it would threaten their careers.
This is exactly what happened last week at a hearing in Trenton regarding a bill (S4204) that would define when workers would be designated as independent contractors, as opposed to company employees.
Concern was expressed by workers such as freelance writers, truckers, photographers and many others who said companies would think twice about using them if this new legislation was enacted and suddenly made them company employees.
Concerns were also expressed by employers such as newspapers, transcribers and small law firms who said they would need to drop contract workers rather than designate them as company employees and have to assimilate the added expenses of employment taxes and benefits.
The strong backlash to this legislation surprised many, leaving observers to ask: Who is this bill helping? What problem is it trying to solve?
The bill serves as another example of a serious problem in Trenton that the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce has repeatedly pointed out: Legislation is frequently introduced and then rushed through to passage without its consequences being thoroughly vetted.
At last week’s hearing — which was the second one for this bill — the discussion of the unintended consequences used up about four hours of a six-hour hearing intended to examine 10 proposed pieces of legislation.
Why are we spending so much time on this bill? There is no groundswell I am aware of that suggests this bill is addressing a significant problem in our state.
If it is true that certain companies are gaming the system by inappropriately designating workers as independent contractors, then the legislation should be amended to focus specifically on stopping this practice, with absolutely no other groups being impacted. Not only would this address the issue at hand, it would alleviate the legitimate concerns expressed by the independent contractors at the hearing last week. Simply said, solve the problem and do not create unintended victims.
Further, the state chamber again urges the Legislature to slow down and take the necessary time to thoroughly examine the consequences of any proposed legislation to ensure there is a complete understanding of all the outcomes upon adoption.
Tom Bracken is the CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, located in Trenton.