ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Legislature is set to reconvene Tuesday, April 7, to approve a proposal allowing emergency responders to collect workers' compensation if they become sickened with the coronavirus while on the job.
The plan is one of the biggest pieces of unfinished business from a $330 million aid package approved last month and legislative leaders in the divided Statehouse said they were prepared to pass it Tuesday.
Under the proposal, first responders, police officers, firefighters, and health care workers, including home health care workers and child care workers providing care to first responders, would be presumed to have contracted COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, while on the job and would be eligible for workers' compensation. The benefits could only be denied if an employer or insurer could prove the employee didn't contract the illness while working.
First responders had disagreed with existing rules for workers' compensation that suggest a responder could be asked to prove where he or she contracted an illness, and in the meantime, potentially have to take unpaid sick time and pay for their treatment. And they urged state lawmakers to act before a peak in cases of COVID-19 is expected to hit Minnesota.
The plan would also require the compilation of a report of all cases of COVID-19 positive workers who sought compensation. Lawmakers would be able to review that report next year. And the coverage would sunset next year without an extension from the Minnesota Legislature.
A compromise proposal appeared to take hold after labor and business leaders on the Workers' Compensation Advisory Council negotiated legislation behind closed doors. Senate Republican leaders expressed reluctance about passing a proposal until that advisory group signed off on a plan.
The advisory council is expected to vote on the proposal before teeing it up for a vote in the Minnesota House of Representatives at noon Tuesday, and in the Senate at 2 p.m. Gov. Tim Walz has said he supports the proposal.
"We hope it's not needed," Senate President Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said in a news release, "but it is vitally important for these heroes on the front lines to know that this policy is in place to help protect their health and safety during this difficult and uncertain time."
Lawmakers and leaders in both political parties, along with groups representing emergency responders touted the agreement Monday.
As a public service, we’ve opened this article to everyone regardless of subscription status. If this coverage is important to you, please consider supporting local journalism by clicking on the subscribe button in the upper right-hand corner of the homepage.