Hours after a top state Republican blasted the group for “knowingly peddling a deceptive report,” the Florida League of Cities on Monday said it no longer opposes a workers’ compensation insurance bill that could provide expanded benefits to first responders with job-related post-traumatic stress disorder.
Florida League of Cities lobbyist David Cruz told members of the House Government Accountability Committee that an amendment added to the bill (HB 227) quashed his group’s concerns with the proposal.
Cruz’s announcement came hours after state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis sent an email to members of the House Government Accountability Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is expected to take up the bill Tuesday, blasting the report.
Patronis’ office wouldn’t provide a copy of the report to The News Service of Florida, saying the authors contend it contains “workpapers, trade secrets, and confidential information” and as such, “it is not intended to be subject to disclosure requirements under any Freedom of Information Act or similar laws.”
But in his memo to lawmakers, Patronis said the state Division of Workers’ Compensation reviewed the analysis and concluded that it overestimated the amount of time first responders could be out of work and included “outrageous and absurd assumptions made to skew opinion on this important issue.”
Patronis said the state’s review also showed that “each and every ‘worst case scenario’ possible” was used to estimate the cost of lost wages and assumed that first responders would always receive the highest disability amount available.
In Florida, injured workers are prevented from obtaining workers’ compensation benefits — either medical benefits or lost wages — for mental or nervous injuries not accompanied by physical injuries. The law was changed in 2007, though, to allow first responders to obtain medical benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder without having accompanying physical injuries. However, they still are precluded from obtaining lost wages for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The House bill would allow first responders who have, among other things, witnessed the death of a minor or witnessed a death that involved “grievous bodily harm of a nature that shocks the conscience” to file a workers’ compensation claim for lost wages. The first responders would be required to show by clear and convincing evidence that the events were the source of the PTSD.
Scott Dudley, director of legislative affairs for the Florida League of Cities, told The News Service of Florida that Patronis’ email had nothing to do with the league’s decision to no longer oppose the legislation.
Dudley said the initial version of the bill was broadly written and that it has been “tightened up” throughout the legislative process. Because cities and cunties in Florida employ almost all first responders, they will incur almost all of the costs of the benefit.
Dudley also refused to give The News Service of Florida a copy of the report, citing the same reasons given by Patronis’ office. Cruz said the study wasn’t conducted by the league and involved a contract between the Florida Municipal Insurance Trust and actuaries Willis Towers Watson.
Shortly before the committee voted unanimously Monday to approve the bill, 36-year-old Megan Vila tearfully thanked lawmakers for their work. Vila has spent the past six months pushing the changes after her brother, Tampa firefighter Steve LaDue, committed suicide in September 2017.
Vila, who also is the wife of a firefighter, said her brother had worked 30 years as a firefighter and had suffered from PTSD. He filed a workers’ compensation claim but was denied, she said.
“I truly believe that had this bill been enacted in the infancy stages when he came forward ... he might still be here today,” she said, telling members of the committee that the bill “will make a difference” in the lives of first responders.
The Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday is expected to take up the Senate version of the bill (SB 376). The regular legislative session is slated to end March 9.