Workers’ compensation first responder presumption legislation advances to Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee

January 14, 2020

On January 13, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee took up legislation that proposes adding several types of cancer to the list of illnesses presumed to be incurred in the course of employment for firefighters, as well as additional legislation applicable to multiple categories of first-responders that proposes adding post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a presumptive illness assumed to be incurred in the course of normal employment. Both categories of legislation were reported and referred to Senate Finance and Appropriations, and both have fiscal impact to local government.

The 2019 General Assembly passed legislation adding cancers of the brain, colon, and testes to the list of presumptive illnesses for firefighters. This legislation contained language that required the 2020 General Assembly to reenact the legislation upon consideration of a study published by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) on Virginia’s Workers’ Compensation system in order to become law. Legislation addressing PTSD as a presumptive illness did not pass the General Assembly but was referred to JLARC as well.

At the time, VACo expressed concern to members of the General Assembly not about the intent of the legislation, but rather the potential fiscal impact to local governments through the rise of insurance costs needed to fund any additional liabilities created by the addition of these illnesses. Over the summer, VACo staff met with the JLARC team conducting the report to share our perspective on the issue. At its December meeting, JLARC released their findings and the potential fiscal impact of legislation.

SB 9 (Saslaw) adds cancers of the colon, brain, or testes to the existing list of conditions currently presumed to be an occupational disease when developed by firefighters and certain public employees and therefore covered by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. The bill also incorporates several recommendations from the JLARC study, which include reducing the years of service requirement for cancer presumptions for firefighters from 12 to five years in order to align more closely with national averages and eliminates the burden of proof requirement of firefighters for exposure to a toxic substance. The bill was amended in Committee at the request of the patron to raise the years of service requirement for firefighters for hypertension and heart disease. Though there is still likely to be a fiscal impact from this legislation, the addition of years of service requirements for hypertension and heart disease should be mitigatory. The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee incorporated similar legislation – SB 58 (Cosgrove), SB 381 (McPike), and SB 531 (Vogel) – into SB 9. The bill was reported and referred to Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee (14-1).

SB 741 (McPike) establishes a presumption that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an occupational disease for firefighters, law-enforcement officers, 9-1-1 emergency call takers, and other first responders and is therefore covered by the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act. Given the number and type of employees impacted by this legislation and the nature of PTSD workers’ compensation claims, the potential fiscal impact to state and local governments if enacted could likely be several orders of magnitude greater than the addition of the cancer presumptions. This chart of estimated annual premium costs per employee published as an accompaniment to the JLARC report demonstrates this difference.

The Senate Commerce and Labor Committee reported and referred the bill to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee (12-3). The Committee also reviewed similar legislation SB 924 (Cosgrove), which was incorporated into SB 561 (Vogel) and reported and referred to Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee by a similar margin.

Though not opposed to the intent of the PTSD presumption bills, VACo staff expressed concern to the Patrons and Committee regarding the potential fiscal impact of the PTSD bills on localities. Similar legislation in the House has yet to be heard.

VACo Contact: Jeremy Bennett

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