Legislation that would change Idaho’s workers’ compensation laws to allow first responders to file claims for post-traumatic stress injuries was introduced Thursday in a Senate committee.
House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, presented the measure Thursday afternoon to the Idaho Senate Commerce & Human Resources Committee, which voted unanimously to introduce it. That clears the way for a full committee hearing on the bill, which is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise.
In Idaho, first responders can receive compensation for a work-related mental injury — such as a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress injuries — only if it is accompanied by a physical injury. Throughout the state, first responders must pay out of pocket for their own treatment and use their vacation time if it requires time away from work, if their injury isn’t physical.
The legislation would change that. As Erpelding told the committee — and the full room dotted with a few uniformed police officers and Boise Police Chief Bill Bones — if a first responder could demonstrate “clear and convincing evidence of a mental injury” related to their work, they could receive compensation for the treatment.
Erpelding said clear and convincing evidence is “far greater than 50 plus 1 percent,” and is closer to “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”
Erpelding said while municipalities might see a slight increase in workers’ compensation costs as first responders file claims, predicting the exact cost is difficult. For that reason, he said, the legislation includes a clause allowing it to sunset in four years, in case there is an unexpected surfeit of claims and costs.
Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, asked Erpelding what treatment for first responders might look like on the ground.
“The current treatment of PTSI is to do everything possible to keep the employee in the working environment,” Erpelding said. “What that does is it keeps the employee working and it helps them to process some of the problems they’re having with previous experiences.”
He added a patient typically requires between 15 and 20 therapeutic appointments to see change.
It’s not the first time such legislation has been introduced in Idaho. In the 1990s, lawmakers debated a similar bill, and among those who supported it was Boise Fire Chief Dennis Doan. The legislation, however, died amid fiscal concerns and opposition from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, Doan previously told the Idaho Press.
The current bill would apply to public employees, including volunteer first responders, and lists police officers, firefighters, emergency medical service providers, and emergency communications officers.