A bill in the Legislature would require the licensing of all emergency medical technicians in New Jersey and put them all under the control of the state Department of Health, which would establish uniform standards for pre-hospital emergency care.

As it stands now, what happens when you dial 911 in a medical emergency can vary widely depending on where you are in the state.

In some places, only volunteer EMTs respond. In other places, hospital-based paramedics, who have a higher level of training than basic EMTs, respond along with the volunteer squad. In yet other towns, the EMTs or paramedics are paid employees of a private firm. Furthermore, in some cases, the people who respond to your emergency will have undergone criminal background checks. But the background checks are not mandatory.

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Supporters of the measure say New Jersey should have a system of uniform care and uniform requirements. Many volunteer EMT organizations, however, oppose the measure, saying it is designed to replace volunteer squads with private companies.

Gov. Chris Christie vetoed one version of the bill in January, noting the possible cost of the measure. But a revised version of the bill was recently approved by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, and the controversy is flaring anew.

The idea of having a unified system of care provided by licensed EMTs who all have undergone background checks certainly makes sense. How can you argue against that? But there are good questions as to whether New Jersey can afford such a change right now. And there are legitimate questions regarding some aspects of the bill.

For example, all EMTs currently must be "certified" by the state. The process is free to volunteer EMTs. Companies with paid EMTs, however, pay approximately $1,500 for an initial license, according to a recent story on the NJSpotlight.com website. And the New Jersey State First Aid Council, which represents volunteer ambulance squads, worries the measure could result in high licensing fees for volunteers.

Supporters of the measure say no licensing fees are proposed. But the state would have to pay for this new system somehow, and any additional costs incurred by volunteer first-responders could, in fact, drive some away from their local ambulance squads, many of which already have a hard time finding enough volunteers. So this attempt to improve the delivery of emergency medical services could hurt the process in some cases.

The bill tries to do too much, in our opinion. Why not just require criminal background checks - a key component - for all EMTs, and leave it at that for now?

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