OLR Bill Analysis

HB 5262 (as amended by House "A")*

AN ACT CONCERNING WORKERS' COMPENSATION COVERAGE FOR CURRENT AND FORMER UNIFORMED MEMBERS OF PAID OR VOLUNTEER FIRE DEPARTMENTS.

SUMMARY:

This bill creates the firefighters cancer relief account and the firefighters cancer relief program to provide wage replacement benefits to eligible paid and volunteer firefighters diagnosed with cancer. The bill establishes a new cancer relief subcommittee of the Connecticut State Firefighters Association to award benefits under the program. Firefighters are not eligible until July 1, 2019 (although another part of the bill states that eligibility starts in 2022, five years after the bill's effective date).

The account will be funded through a diversion of money from the enhanced emergency 9-1-1-program, which is funded through a monthly subscriber fee that the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) imposes on phone service (see BACKGROUND). The bill requires, to the extent permitted under federal law, an amount from the fee equal to one cent per month per access line to be remitted from the fee to be deposited in the account the bill establishes.

Under the bill, “firefighter” includes any (1) local fire marshal, deputy fire marshal, fire investigator, fire inspector, and other classes of inspectors and investigators for whom the State Fire Marshal and the Codes and Standards Committee have jointly adopted minimum qualification standards; and (2) uniformed member of a paid municipal, state, or volunteer fire department.

An eligible firefighters' wage replacement benefits under the bill must be approved by the association subcommittee, which is authorized to determine the weekly amount benefit and the benefit duration, provided (1) the weekly benefit does not exceed 100% of the average weekly earnings of all workers in the state for the year in which the cancer was diagnosed and (2) the benefits are not provided for more than two years.

The bill specifically excludes a firefighter who receives benefits from the account from concurrently receiving unemployment or worker's compensation benefits or any other municipal, state, or federal wage replacement benefits. It also specifies that receiving benefits under the bill cannot be used as evidence for or an acknowledgement of liability under the workers' compensation law.

It also makes technical and conforming changes.

*House Amendment “A” strikes the original bill, which created a rebuttable presumption under workers' compensation law that firefighting performed by volunteer, municipal, and state firefighters causes numerous types of cancer.

EFFECTIVE DATE: February 1, 2017

1 & 3 — PHONE SERVICE FEE DIVERSION AND RELIEF ACCOUNT

To the extent permitted by federal law, beginning February 1, 2017, and not later than the 15th of each month following, the bill requires an amount equal to one cent per month per phone line to be remitted from the PURA-imposed fees to the state treasurer for deposit in the firefighters cancer relief account.

It creates the firefighters cancer relief account as a separate, nonlapsing account within the General Fund. It must contain any moneys required by law to be deposited in the account, including any moneys deposited pursuant to the bill. Moneys in the account must be expended by the cancer relief subcommittee of the Connecticut State Firefighters Association, established for the purposes of providing wage replacement benefits to firefighters eligible under the bill.

The state treasurer must invest the money deposited in the account in a manner reasonable and appropriate to achieve the account's objectives and she must exercise the discretion and care of a prudent person in similar circumstances with similar objectives. The treasurer must give due consideration to rate of return, risk, term or maturity, diversification of the total portfolio within such account, liquidity, the projected disbursements and expenditures, and the expected payments, deposits, contributions and gifts to be received. The moneys in the account must be invested and reinvested until disbursed in accordance with the bill.

The money in the firefighters cancer relief account must be used solely for the purposes of providing wage replacement benefits to eligible firefighters and for administering the relief program.

4 — CANCER RELIEF SUBCOMMITTEE

The bill establishes a firefighters cancer relief subcommittee of the Connecticut State Firefighters Association that must consist of one member from each of the following organizations:

1. the Connecticut State Firefighters Association,

2. the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association,

3. the Uniformed Professional Firefighters of the International Association of Firefighters,

4. the Connecticut Fire Marshals Association, and

5. the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities.

(It is unclear whether the state can create a subcommittee of an otherwise private organization or require it to include individuals who are not members of the organization.)

The subcommittee must review claims for wage replacement benefits submitted to the relief program and provide wage replacement benefits to any firefighter who the subcommittee determines is eligible under the bill. The subcommittee may use existing workers compensation law to determine the weekly wage replacement benefits.

The bill does not require or provide any appeals process for disputes or claim denials.

Benefit Amount and Duration

Under the bill, a firefighter approved for wage replacement benefits by the subcommittee will be eligible for benefits on and after July 1, 2019. (This provision conflicts with section five of the bill that requires a firefighter to work five years as a firefighter after the bill's effective date to be eligible, which would be 2022 at the earliest.)

The subcommittee must determine the benefit amount and duration within the following limits:

1. the maximum weekly benefit cannot exceed 100%, raised to the next even dollar, of the average weekly earnings of all workers in the state for the year in which the cancer was diagnosed and

2. the benefit period cannot exceed 24 months.

The labor commissioner determines the average weekly earnings of all workers in the state on or before August 15th each year, to be effective the following October 1. This figure is the average of all workers' weekly earnings for the year ending the previous June 30 and is determined in accordance with the standards established by the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The bill specifically excludes a firefighter who receives benefits from the account from concurrently receiving unemployment or worker's compensation benefits or any other municipal, state, or federal wage replacement benefits.

However, a firefighter may receive wage replacement benefits concurrently with any employer-provided employment benefits, provided the total compensation does not exceed the firefighter's pay rate at the time he or she was diagnosed with cancer (this provision could conflict with the provision above that prohibits other municipal, state, or federal wage replacement benefits). Presumably the other benefits do not include unemployment or worker's compensation benefits.

It also specifies that receiving benefits under the bill cannot be used as evidence for or an acknowledgement of liability under the workers' compensation law.

Notwithstanding any other provision of the general statutes, any employer who provides accident and health insurance or life insurance coverage for a firefighter or makes payments or contributions at the regular hourly or weekly rate for the firefighter to an employee welfare plan, must provide the firefighter equivalent insurance coverage or welfare plan payments or contributions while the firefighter is eligible to receive or is receiving the bill's wage replacement benefits. To the extent that this provision applies to volunteer firefighters who work for private employers, it could be found to be preempted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which generally governs private sector benefit plans. As used in this bill, "employee welfare plan" means any plan established or maintained for a firefighter or the firefighter's family or dependents, for medical, surgical or hospital care benefits.

The treasurer must remit wage benefits approved by the subcommittee not later than 30 days after they have been approved.

5 — CANCER RELIEF PROGRAM QUALIFICATIONS

Under the bill, the program provides wage replacement benefits for an eligible firefighter suffering from any condition of cancer affecting the brain, skin, skeletal system, digestive system, endocrine system, respiratory system, lymphatic system, reproductive system, urinary system or hematological system that results in death, or temporary or permanent total or partial disability if the firefighter meets certain conditions.

A firefighter qualifies if he or she:

1. passed a physical examination upon entry into such service, or subsequent to entry, that failed to reveal any evidence of such disease, and passed physicals in each following year that failed to reveal any evidence of cancer;

2. worked or volunteered at a fire department for at least five years since February 1, 2017;

3. has not used any cigarettes or any other tobacco products, within 15 years of applying for benefits;

4. has a disease that is one known to result from exposure to heat, radiation, or a known carcinogen as determined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer or the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services;

5. meets the bill's definition of firefighter and is either an interior structural firefighter or a fire marshal or investigator; and

6. has complied with certain federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standards for at least five consecutive years (it is unclear how firefighters would comply with OSHA, a federal law that places health and safety requirements on private employers, not employees).

The bill defines “interior structural firefighter” as an individual who performs fire suppression, rescue, or both, inside of buildings or enclosed structures that are involved in a fire situation beyond the incipient stage, as defined in federal regulations.

Retired firefighters, who are otherwise eligible, may apply for benefits up to five years from the date such individual last served as a firefighter.

Ongoing Requirement

A firefighter will be required to submit to annual physical examinations, including blood testing, during his or her active service and for a period of five years after the date he or she last served as a firefighter as a condition of receiving the benefits. An individual who no longer serves as a firefighter must bear the cost of any required physical examination.

6 — REPORT TO THE PUBLIC SAFETY COMMITTEE

By January 1, 2018, and annually thereafter, the treasurer, in consultation with the firefighters association, must submit a report to the Public Safety Committee on the status of the firefighters cancer relief account and relief program that includes (1) the balance of the account, (2) the projected and actual participation in the program, and (3) the demographic information of each firefighter who receives benefits under the program, including gender, age, town of residence, and income level.

7 — ADDITIONAL REPORTING ON FIRES

The bill also requires local fire chiefs and fire marshals to submit additional information to the state fire marshal regarding each fire, explosion, or other emergency. The bill requires their reports to include the name of each firefighter who was present and exposed to heat, radiation, or a known or suspected carcinogen as a result of the fire, explosion, or other fire emergency and the duration of the exposure.

8 — BENEFIT PROOF AND PAYMENT PROCESS

Under the bill, the treasurer must process payment approved by the subcommittee for a firefighter or the firefighter's legal representative on receipt of proof from the association. It specifies this is done for a firefighter under the provisions of the association's constitution and bylaws. It is unclear if the association's constitution and bylaws address this new fund and program and whether they generally allow benefits for firefighters who are not members of the association. The association is a private, non-profit membership organization for paid and volunteer firefighters.

The bill specifies the benefits are limited to the available funds in the relief account the bill establishes.

BACKGROUND

Funding for the E 9-1-1 Program

The Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection commissioner must annually determine and report to PURA the associated expenses and amount of funding needed to develop and administer the enhanced emergency 911 (E-911) system. Funding can be provided for:

1. buying, installing, and maintaining new public safety answering point (PSAP) terminal equipment;

2. transition grants to encourage PSAPs to regionalize;

3. subsidies for regional centers, with enhanced subsidies for municipalities with more than 40,000 residents;

4. coordinated medical emergency direction services that provide medical instructions to an E-911 caller before medical assistance arrives;

5. personnel training and related costs;

6. capital costs and recurring expenses associated with the telecommunications system that supports the E-911 system;

7. collecting, maintaining, and reporting emergency medical services data as required by state law, up to $250,000 per year; and

8. Office of Statewide Emergency Telecommunication's administrative costs (CGS 28-24(7)(c)).

Related Bill

sHB 5075 (File 3), favorably reported by the Labor Committee, requires the state to create a firefighters' cancer disability insurance benefit program that covers some of the same cancers.

COMMITTEE ACTION

Labor and Public Employees Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

11

Nay

2

(03/01/2016)

Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee

Joint Favorable

Yea

42

Nay

6

(04/05/2016)