FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 03/18/2021
REP. JARED PATTERSON AUTHORS LEGISLATIVE PACKAGE TO PROTECT FIRST RESPONDERS AND THEIR FAMILIES
(Frisco, TX) - Representative Jared Patterson has filed a package of bills to protect injured first responders and their families. He serves on the House Committee on Business & Industry, which may hear many of the bills.
Patterson stated, "As a freshman member serving on the House Committee on Business & Industry, I was deeply impacted by the statements from the first responders who showed up to testify about issues accessing workers' compensation. My resolve to address these issues was hardened when taxpayer-funded entities fought so hard against protecting the very men and women who protect us back home. Our first responders sacrifice their safety, health, and financial well-being every day for the people of Texas. If they experience an injury on the job, whether it's COVID-19, post-traumatic stress, or a devastating career-ending injury, the least we could do is take proper care of them."
The bill package, which is expected to receive broad bipartisan support, is below:
HB 541 establishes COVID-19 as a presumptive disease for public safety employees. That is, if a public safety employee - peace officer, fire fighter, detention officer, county jailer, or emergency medical services employee of this state or a political subdivision of this state - contracted the disease, it would be presumed this occurred during the course and scope of their employment for workers' compensation and other benefits.
HB 1635 would specifically focus on studying workers' compensation for first responders - both the good and the bad. This legislation would allow for valuable information to be shared with state leaders regarding first responders' experiences with workers' compensation and would pinpoint the issues using real numbers. The findings would be reported to the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker of the house, and the members of the legislature.
HB 2242 seeks to assist firefighters and police officers who are in danger of losing their jobs due to the time off required to recover from an injury or illness. This legislation seeks to resolve this issue by requiring a county or city to provide a qualifying firefighter or police officer with appropriate time off and full pay. If necessary, the leave shall continue for at least one year. This legislation also provides options for a county or city to extend to a firefighter or police officer that is still not fully recovered at the end of the one year. Finally, this legislation clarifies options that may be made available to a firefighter or police officer struggling with an injury or illness that is not related to their job and ensures that they will be reinstated to their same rank and seniority they were at prior to taking leave.
HB 2502 relates to Lifetime Income Benefits (LIBs), which is a workers' compensation benefit a person can qualify for if they sustain a catastrophic injury on the job. HB 2502 would clarify the definition of paralysis so that individuals like former police officer Justin Ellis, who is paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair but can move one of his toes, are not denied LIBs. This bill also seeks to raise the employee's average weekly wage for first responders by creating an exception that would increase the percentage of weekly wages.
HB 2598 would amend statute so that the date of diagnosis for post-traumatic stress is the actual date of injury. It would then provide 60 days for the first responder to report the injury to their employer.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a difficult injury to recognize as it is not an outward wound. Many first responders go years before realizing that they are suffering from PTSD and current statute is based on when the individual first knew or should have known they had the disorder, which can be difficult to prove.
HB 2832 would allow for a first responder who qualifies for lifetime income benefits due to a line of duty injury to receive a property tax exemption. Currently, there are property tax exemptions for the surviving spouse of a first responder that has passed away in the line of duty, but there is not an exemption for a first responder that is disabled in the line of duty. HB 2832 would also provide for the spouse to continue to receive this benefit if they were married to a qualifying disabled first responder at the time of their death. This legislation is enabling legislation, as it accompanies HJR 119, which is the constitutional amendment to make this exemption possible. Voters would need to approve of this amendment in the next constitutional election, which will take place on November 2, 2021, or this bill has no effect.
HB 4385 seeks to address the issue many injured employees face when dealing with workers' compensation, which is differing medical opinions between their physician and the physician employed by workers' compensation. Differing medical opinions have caused problems for employees seeking treatment as it often slows down the process. This legislation would eliminate the utilization review process and would allow for employees to be treated for their injuries without involving the interests of workers' compensation.
Jared Patterson represents House District 106, which encompasses the eastern portion of Denton County. During the 86th Legislative Session, Patterson authored and passed initiatives in policy areas such as transportation, education, property taxes, as well as eliminated unnecessary and burdensome government regulations. Patterson serves on the House Committees on Business & Industry, Calendars, and Homeland Security & Public Safety. He also serves on the Texas Cybersecurity Council. His family resides in Frisco.