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Lawmakers consider expanding workers' comp for front line workers with COVID-19

Callan Gray
Updated: April 01, 2020 12:51 PM
Created: March 31, 2020 10:18 PM

Healthcare workers and first responders rallied at the Capitol on Thursday, urging lawmakers to pass changes to Minnesota’s Workers’ Compensation Law. 

“We cannot wait, this crisis is only getting worse,” said Chris Parsons, President of Minnesota Professional Firefighters. “All we are asking is that should our brave men and women contract this insidious disease and can no longer work at the job that they love, that the state of Minnesota step up and protect them and their families.”

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Bills have been proposed in both the Minnesota House and Senate to modify worker's compensation benefits specifically for firefighters. One was authored by Rep. Dan Wolgamott.

On Monday, Rep. Wolgamott sent a letter to Gov. Walz asking him to issue an Executive Order.

The letter said, in part, “… I truly believe that the most effective way to support these workers is this: for any employee who contracts COVID-19 and who has been directly dealing with this disease in their daily work, the Minnesota Workers’ Compensation Law is extended to presume that the disease occurred in the course and scope of their employment....” 

By 10 p.m. on Tuesday, 22 lawmakers had signed the letter. A Change.org petition supporting an executive order had more than 23,000 signatures.

“Yes, I am considering moving on that,” said Gov. Walz during his Tuesday briefing. “I’ll give the Legislature time to try and see if they can get that fixed but our folks, our first responders, deserve that too so we'll continue to fight for that." 

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State Sen. Paul Utke wants the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council first to make a recommendation to the Legislature.

“I think we’ve got pretty good coverage already but if we’re going to make any changes, it needs to go through and be approved by the Workers’ Comp Advisory Council,” he said. “I don’t want to see an executive order by the Governor or someone just putting an amendment on a bill that hasn’t been vetted by the Council.”

He said the Council will need to look at the issue of presumption.

“Did they get it at work or did they get it at home? A family member? The community spread portion of COVID-19 is taking off,” he said.

“If they come down with the virus and it was presumed they got it at work, and it would mean everything was covered, I mean we’ve got a lot of other exposures. That’s kind of what we’re working on, that piece of it.”

Sen. Utke said they also need to consider the effect on employers and insurance companies. 

“The people we're talking about here with workers’ comp are on the front lines and we want to make sure we're taking care of them but that we're doing it the right way,” he said.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke with Parsons again on Tuesday.

“Right now we're in a time of crisis and the WCAC is a slow process and this is no time for a slow process,” he said. 

Parsons told us they’ve spent the past several days working with lawmakers, including making concessions about what they want to see in the legislation.

“We really do hope they accept it,” said Parsons. “The situation is getting worse by the day so we need action now.”

While lawmakers have yet to vote on the bills, Utke said conversations are continuing at the Capitol. 

We reached out to WCAC member Doug Loon, who is also President of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.

He sent us this statement, “Several legislative proposals have been presented and are under review. This bill is just one approach. First responders who work with patients with COVID-19 are essential to protecting public health. We are actively working on the best way to protect their health should they contract the virus while at work.”


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