House and Senate Labor Committees Consider Comp Bills on Police Volunteers and PTSD

The Louisiana House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee considered HB285 by Rep. Robert Billiot on Thursday morning. Immediately after, Senate Labor considered bills on the minimum wage and a PTSD presumption for first responders, among other instruments.

HB285 would provide for benefits for volunteer reserve police officers and deputies; to provide medical benefits for injured reserve police officers and deputies; as well as definitions and related matters.

Ryan Dahl with Dahl Insurance Agency, who was at the table with Rep. Billiot, explained the impetus for the bill. “I write comp for several municipalities through my company Dahl Insurance Agency,” he said. “This bill would hopefully fix that issue where municipalities could add their reserve officers to their workers’ comp. It would be medical only, not the indemnity portion since volunteers are not paid.”

Rep. Bagley, Rep. Amedee, and Vice Chair Rep. Miguez, concerned about the budgetary accommodations that may need to be made in the smaller municipalities, was assured by Rep. Billiot that municipalities would not have to provide these benefits, each public entity would have to adopt it to opt-in.

The address this concern, Rep. Miguez offered an amendment that adds the language, “if the municipalities or parish or public entity elects to provide such coverage.” Rep. Miguez and Rep. Billiot agreed to have staff work on potential additional amendments before the bill gets to the floor. After roughly an hour of discussion, the bill was moved favorably with amendments.

The Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee was set to first address SB88 by Senator Michael Luneau, which provides for a 30 day deadline to appeal a decision of the Medical Director. However, Senator Luneau was absent due to the tornado that hit Ruston overnight, so the bill was deferred to the next meeting.

Most of the meeting was dominated by SB155 by Senator Troy Carter, which would create a constitutional amendment allowing Louisianans to vote on raising the state minimum wage to nine dollars. Any unilateral upward movement in the minimum wage has been consistently opposed by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) and the Louisiana Small Business Association. They claim that small businesses have insufficient cash reserves to cover a general increase. Senator Carter testified in closing that the bill is supported at 70-80 percent in polling. The bill, which enjoyed much support, including from Governor Edwards and the First Lady and Donald Link’s restaurant group, was moved favorably, five yeas to one nay. Senator Peacock was the single dissenting vote.

Towards the end of the meeting, the Committee considered SB107 by Senator Ryan Gatti, which adds PTSD to the list of compensable presumptions under workers’ comp for first responders (state police, emergency medical personnel, volunteer firefighters, sheriff and sheriff’s deputies). The presumption under this proposal may only be rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. Present law allows these protected classes of employees to file a claim of PTSD, but they must first prove it is related to their employment by a preponderance of the evidence. “We are more likely to see our police and firefighters die by suicide due to untreated PTSD than in the line of duty,” Gatti said in his initial testimony. “I learned about a fireman in Lincoln Parish who witnessed a child die right in front of him. The workers’ comp carrier basically said ‘you signed up for this.’ The bill is a frame, a flowchart, so that we have a system to get help.”

Assistant Secretary of the Office of Workers’ Compensation Sheral Kellar testified in response to a question from Senator Peacock, who was concerned that the bill could affect retirement funds. Asst. Secretary Kellar clarified that it shouldn’t affect retirement funds, but rather creates a presumption for workers’ comp carriers. However, Senator Peacock still insisted, saying that “I’ll let the retirement lawyers figure that out, not the comp lawyers.” LABI, among other groups, opposed the bill citing unintended consequences.

The bill was moved favorably to the floor, with a technical amendment, with no opposition.

 

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