Expanding Post-Traumatic Stress Coverage Under Workers' Compensation Statutes Would Walk Away From 2019 Bi-Partisan Agreement
For Immediate Release
Kevin Maloney, (203) 710-3486
The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM) today (Tuesday, February 25, 2020) said that proposed state legislation to expand the list of local and state employees eligible for benefits under the just-enacted 2019 legislation to provide post-traumatic stress benefits under Connecticut’s workers' compensation statutes, would walk back the partisan agreement reached last session, which provides benefits on a limited, cost-controlled basis.
SB 231 – “An Act Concerning Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Certain Mental or Emotional Impairments Suffered by Emergency Medical Personnel, Department of Correction Employees, and Dispatchers” -- would expand the list of employee classifications that are eligible to obtain certain Workers’ Compensation benefits when they are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) under the new law enacted in PA 19-17 to include EMS personnel, DOC employees and emergency dispatchers.
The creation of this new law was the result of extensive discussions between the various stakeholders over a period of nine months. The considerations were absent political ideology and focused on the greater good of our first responders along with the property taxpayers of Connecticut. Each party involved in the development of the legislation dealt in good faith and was willing to compromise in order to create a meaningful and realistic legislation. Unfortunately, SB 231 is contrary to that process and would walk back the bipartisan agreement reached between all parties in PA 19-17.
As a result, CCM opposes SB 231.
CCM and others have pleaded with the Legislature that modifications to the law is not as simplistic as adding the titles into statute. Other considerations need to be considered including, but not limited to (a) a new list of critical incidents for the new classification of employees; (b) training and department requirements; and (c) model policies for new occupations. CCM has indicated that any substantive changes likely warrant separate sections in statute because of their unique and complicated nature. SB 231 does not take into account any of these considerations.
SB 231 as drafted only adds the three new employee classifications into the bill without any consideration for others factors. An important component of PA 19-17 is to assist the first responders in becoming aware of mental health care and developing resilience techniques through the development of standard policies for critical incidents and peer support programs for these employees. This bill does not afford the new designation of employees such attention.
SB 231 as drafted also has practical flaws, including redefining “witnessing” to include instances where an incident is heard by telephone or radio. CCM and the various stakeholders had an in-depth review and discussion of each of the six critical incidents listed in PA 19-17. They are intended to be the most egregious and traumatic instances that a police or firefighter would experience in their professional career. They are intended to be instances where the individual has physically witnessed, not through photograph, video or audio. In developing the law, our group gave tremendous considerations on language choice, wording and intent to each of the individual critical incidents. As additional job classifications are considered, CCM has implored the legislature to utilize this exhaustive but necessary process in order to properly address the appropriate incidents experienced by EMS, DOC and emergency dispatchers. This approach has been absent when developing SB 231.
Willingness at the table back to top
CCM underwent negotiations on the underlying law as an indication of our willingness to come to the table, discuss an important issue, and try to reach a compromise that works for municipal employees, municipal employers and taxpayers. PA 19-17 was not only a reflection of our position on this particular issue, but it established a benchmark for future conversations on other contentious issues.
CCM has maintained its commitment to discussing the inclusion of EMS personnel. However, to date we have had limited meetings with legislators on the topic and only one public hearing or informational meeting on the subject matter. This sends an unnerving tone with our members that the same level of meetings and dialogue is not occurring as the Labor Committee contemplates adding other occupations to the current PTSD statutes without the same level of negotiations with the various stakeholders.
The PTSD law is only in its infancy. In addition, some provisions have not yet been enacted. A greater amount of time and consideration regarding the laws impact and training implementation needs to take place and reviewed. It is important that we examine the experience and impacts that PA 19-17 has on the workers’ compensation system and municipalities before proceeding with additional occupation classifications. This process will take years to properly review, and not a few months.