PA 16-10—HB 5262
Labor and Public Employees Committee
Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee
AN ACT ESTABLISHING A FIREFIGHTERS CANCER RELIEF PROGRAM
SUMMARY: This act creates the firefighters cancer relief program to provide wage replacement benefits to eligible paid and volunteer firefighters diagnosed with cancer. It establishes a new cancer relief subcommittee of the Connecticut State Firefighters Association to award the program benefits. Firefighters will not receive benefits until they are determined eligible by the subcommittee, and eligibility starts in 2022, five years after the act's effective date.
The new program will be supported by diverting funds from the enhanced emergency 9-1-1 program (E-911), which is funded through a monthly phone service subscriber fee imposed by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). The act establishes an account into which one cent per month per phone line must be remitted from the fee and deposited.
Under the act, “firefighter” includes any (1) uniformed member of a paid municipal, state, or volunteer fire department and (2) 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.
An eligible firefighter's wage replacement benefits under the act must be approved by the association subcommittee, which is authorized to determine the weekly benefit amount and duration, provided the (1) 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) benefits are not provided for more than two years.
The act specifically excludes a firefighter who receives benefits from the account from concurrently receiving unemployment or workers' compensation benefits or any other municipal, state, or federal wage replacement benefits. It also specifies that receiving benefits under the act cannot be used as evidence for or an acknowledgement of liability under the workers' compensation law.
It also makes technical and conforming changes.
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 subsequent month, the act 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 into the firefighters cancer relief account. By law and unchanged by the act, PURA cannot impose a charge greater than 75 cents per month per line.
The act creates the firefighters cancer relief account as a separate, nonlapsing account within the General Fund. It must contain any money required by law to be deposited in the account, including any money deposited pursuant to the act. The Connecticut State Firefighters Association cancer relief subcommittee (see below) must expend the money in the account to provide wage replacement benefits to eligible firefighters.
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, portfolio diversification, liquidity, the projected disbursements and expenditures, and the expected payments, deposits, contributions, and gifts to be received. The money must be invested and reinvested until it is disbursed.
The money in the firefighters cancer relief account must be used solely for (1) providing wage replacement benefits to eligible firefighters and (2) administering the relief program.
§ 4 — CANCER RELIEF SUBCOMMITTEE AND BENEFIT TERMS
The act establishes a firefighters cancer relief subcommittee of the Connecticut State Firefighters Association, a private membership organization, 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.
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 act. The subcommittee may use existing workers' compensation law to determine the weekly wage replacement benefits.
Benefit Amount and Duration
Under the act, a firefighter approved for wage replacement benefits by the subcommittee may be eligible for benefits on and after July 1, 2019. But the part of the act that provides eligibility qualifications (see § 5 below) requires a firefighter to work five years as a firefighter after the act's effective date (2017) to be eligible, which is 2022 at the earliest.
The subcommittee must determine the weekly benefit amount and duration which cannot exceed (1) 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) 24 months.
The act requires the labor commissioner to determine the average weekly earnings of all workers in the state on or before August 15 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.
Other Excluded and Included Benefits
The act specifically prohibits a firefighter who receives benefits from the relief program from concurrently receiving (1) unemployment or workers' compensation benefits or (2) any other municipal, state, or federal wage-replacement benefits. However, a volunteer firefighter who is employed in the private sector may receive wage-replacement benefits concurrently with any employer-provided benefits, as long as the total compensation does not exceed the firefighter's pay rate at the time of the cancer diagnosis. It also specifies that receiving benefits under the act cannot be used as evidence for or an acknowledgement of liability under the workers' compensation law.
Notwithstanding any state law, 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 act'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. (The U. S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that ERISA controls any private-sector employee benefit plan whether it is a retirement or health insurance plan (District of Columbia v. Greater Washington Board of Trade, 506 U. S. 125). )
As used in this act, "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 within 30 days after they have been approved.
§ 5 — CANCER RELIEF PROGRAM QUALIFICATIONS
Under the act, the program provides wage replacement benefits for an eligible firefighter suffering from any condition of cancer affecting the brain, skin, or the skeletal, digestive, endocrine, respiratory, lymphatic, reproductive, urinary, or hematological systems that results in death or temporary or permanent total or partial disability if the firefighter meets the following conditions:
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 annual physicals that failed to reveal any evidence of cancer or propensity for such 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 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 act's definition of firefighter and is either a fire marshal or investigator or an interior structural firefighter, which is 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; and
6. complied with certain federal Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) standards for at least five consecutive years.
The OSHA requirement specifically cites to federal regulations regarding (1) an employer's duty to provide proper ventilation and, when that is not possible, respirators in industrial and construction settings and (2) an employer's duty to properly train and equip fire brigades (i. e. , industrial or private fire departments). It is not clear how these employer requirements would apply to employees who are trained firefighters under the standards of their profession.
Those no longer actively serving as firefighters, including retired firefighters, who are otherwise eligible may apply for benefits up to five years from the date they last served as firefighters.
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 up to 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 AND SECURITY COMMITTEE
By January 1, 2018 and annually thereafter, the treasurer, in consultation with the firefighters association, must report to the Public Safety and Security Committee on the status of the firefighters cancer relief account and relief program. The report must include the (1) account balance; (2) projected and actual participation in the program; and (3) 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 act also requires local fire chiefs and fire marshals to submit additional information to the state fire marshal regarding each fire, explosion, or other emergency. This report must include the name of each firefighter who was (1) present and (2) 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 act, the treasurer must process benefit payments approved by the subcommittee for a firefighter or the firefighter's legal representative upon receiving proof from the association. It specifies this is done for a firefighter under the provisions of the association's constitution and bylaws. The association is a private, non-profit membership organization for paid and volunteer firefighters.
The act specifies the benefits are limited to the available funds in the relief account the act establishes.
Funding for the E 9-1-1 Program
The emergency services and public protection commissioner must annually determine and report to PURA the associated expenses and funding amount needed to develop and administer E-911 system. Funding can be provided for the following:
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. the Office of Statewide Emergency Telecommunication's administrative costs (CGS § 28-24(7)(c)).
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