On March 5th the Florida House passed a bill intended to provide PTSD benefits for first responders. House members voted to approve a recently modified Senate version of the bill, and scrapped (“tabled,” in Parliamentary parlance) a more controversial House Bill version. SB 376, approved by both houses, has now been “enrolled” and is currently awaiting the Governor's signature (thank you Judge Langham for a brilliant blog based civics lesson).
Some of you may recall that on February 27th I expressed serious concerns about the bill the House was considering. HB 227 was, in my view, overly broad and very poorly conceived. It would have allowed for major abuse of a well-intended effort, potentially providing PTSD benefits for first responders who merely visited the scene of a catastrophic incident – even well after the scene had been cleared.
Oh, what a difference a week makes.
To the Florida legislators credit, the bill that passed March 5th was far more reasonable than what was being considered just a scant week before. We can have a broader argument over the concept of first responders receiving any special treatment, but that notwithstanding, the final bill sent to the Governor was a vast improvement over the one I ranted about just a short time ago.
Gone is the language granting benefits for simply arriving “at the scene of, a murder, suicide, fatal injury, child death, or mass casualty incident.” Also gone was the attempt to change a compensability standard to “a preponderance of the evidence.” The current standard of “clear and convincing evidence” remains. Where the previous version would change elements of the Florida 440 statutes, this version only changes Section 112.1815, F.S. That statute deals with "special provisions for employment-related accidents and injuries."
Lastly, this legislation provides for very clear standards as to what is required in order for first responders to be eligible for PTSD benefits. I will not go into those specific details here. As previously noted, Judge David Langham provides a terrific overview of the life path of this legislation. His very informative analysis, which includes specific requirements, can be found here.
My point Is simply to acknowledge that, despite my earlier rantings, our Florida legislature seems to have struck a balanced chord on a difficult topic. I am very quick to criticize, so I should be equally willing to praise when the situation calls for it. Don't get me wrong. I stand by every word of my previous “rant.” It was, in my humble opinion, accurate considering the legislative language being considered at that time. I have no idea what changed over the 6 days that followed, but as Judge Langham indicates, “evolution of bill language…. is a common part and parcel of the legislative process.”
And thank God for that.
Special benefits and automatic presumptions for first responders are a growing trend across the nation. I understand that we want to take care of people who deal with the worst possible situations while taking care of us. Still, some of the benefits being extended in certain states are overly generous, declaring virtually any illness or sudden incident such as a heart attack, on or off the job, compensable. It is nice to see that Florida has elected a more common-sense path on this issue. I don't get to say that all too often.
Then again, give us another week. Anything might be possible.
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Robert Wilson is President & CEO of WorkersCompensation.com, and "From Bob's Cluttered Desk" comes his (often incoherent) thoughts, ramblings, observations and rants - often on workers' comp or employment issues, but occasionally not.
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