A New Jersey Senate committee has advanced legislation that would make it easier for first responders to get workers' compensation for ailments resulting from exposure to hazardous materials.

Current law requires police, firefighters, and other emergency personnel to prove a disease resulted from a hazardous incident.

The legislation presumes those workers are entitled to compensation with a provision that allows employers to challenge that.

Representing the Municipal Excess Liability Joint Insurance Fund, Paul Bent said an actuarial service for the fund indicated the change could be costly.

"On the cancer presumption alone, they believe that it will double what New Jersey currently pays in benefits in workers' comp and cost approximately $400 million," Bent said.

Other states with presumptive disability benefits haven't seen big increases, countered Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex.

"It's the right thing to do," she said. "The statistics show that it would not prevent financial problems for the state of New Jersey."

West Windsor council president George Borek said volunteer firefighters deserve to be compensated for health problems they suffer from responding to emergencies.

"They need to know that the township is going to be there for them if something happens," he said Thursday. "Because if they don't know that they're being taken care of, if something does happen, I'm not going to have volunteers."

The New Jersey League of Municipalities also opposes the measure on the basis that it would make it more difficult for towns to control property taxes.

"Public safety workers should have every opportunity to claim workers' comp and to show that they were injured in the line of duty," said Jon Moran. "We think they have that right under law, but we fear that reversal of the presumption would impose increased costs on local government."