Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How Work Comp Works In A Legislature

It's always interesting to me how reactionary politics is.

And how powerful government employee unions are in many states.

In Connecticut state Sen. Catherine Osten, D-Sprague, plans to file a new version of Senate Bill 823 in February that would provide benefits for workers who suffer mental trauma after witnessing the death or maiming of a human being during a work-related event.

The bill is in direct response to the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 students and six school staff members before turning the gun on himself.

Osten originally filed the bill during the 2013 session of the Connecticut General Assembly.

News reports say that Osten is being prodded by the Newtown Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers Connecticut because of lower-than-expected contributions to the Sandy Hook Workers' Assistance Fund. State lawmakers created the fund last session to funnel private donations to responders and school staffers who suffered mental trauma as a result of the slayings.

Gov. Dannel Malloy signed legislation creating the fund into law on March 8. As of Monday, the fund had received $215,000 in donations and paid out $67,400 in benefits for medical treatment and wage replacement, according to the Connecticut Office of Victim Services.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is of course against the bill because it greatly expands potential liability well beyond what happened at Sandy Hook.

Osten's original bill had the backing of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, the Connecticut State Police Union, the Uniformed Professional Firefighters Association and the Connecticut State Firefighters Association. Though it cleared the Labor and Public Employees Committee and the General Assembly's Appropriations Committee last session it died on the Senate calendar when the General Assembly adjourned on June 5, 2013.

Connecticut law currently limits mental/mental claims to police officers who use deadly force or are subjected to deadly force in the line of duty and to firefighters who witness the death of another firefighter while engaged in the line of duty.

All other "mental-mental" types of claims were taken off the books in 1993 because employer groups said the law was being abused and taken advantage of.

I'm not sure, if Sandy Hook really is the catalyst for Osten's bill, why it doesn't just provide for Sandy Hook claimant compensation via supplementing the Workers' Assistance Fund. The expectation was that the fund would have $1 million to work from, according to Matthew O'Connor, communications director for AFT Connecticut as reported by the Journal Inquirer.

Which is why it's bad policy to create reactionary law. Sure, the intent may be to compensate fairly the victims and families of Sandy Hook and to have something in place for future events, as unlikely as they may be - but a more sound approach is to deal with such situations on a case by case basis.

The downside of course is that some cases may not get such empathy from the community and may not result in "just compensation," but that is the risk we take in living - not everything works out the way we would like them to.

Connecticut House Speaker J. Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, told the Journal Inquirer:

"I am open to looking at it, but I also want to be very careful about not opening the door to a whole number of claims. The obvious concern from an employer’s standpoint − the ones who actually pay for this fund − is that anytime you open up the potential to claims from employees it can have a huge burden."

Sharkey sees the issue correctly. But politics isn't about correct - it's about taking advantage of opportunities.

Connecticut's SB 823 is a good example of how workers' compensation really works in a legislature. We'll follow this one next year...

No comments:

Post a Comment