Workers’ Comp for Mental Injuries Narrowed to First Responders in Neb.

April 9, 2008

State lawmakers have decided that first responders who suffer mental illness after witnessing a violent act should be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, but other employees should not.

Police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers are covered under the watered-down bill (LB 1082) that lawmakers gave first-round approval to Monday.

Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue, a former police officer who introduced the bill, said she was pleased. Even though the measure as adopted didn’t go as far as she had hoped, her original intent was to protect first responders, she said.

“This is a first step in recognizing mental trauma is just as real as physical trauma,” Cornett said.

The vote came after senators turned down an amendment from Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha to do the same thing, limit the bill to first responders.

Cornett and others asked senators to keep the bill intact, but then senators voted down an amendment that contained the substance of the bill.

So, Cornett brought another amendment to salvage part of her proposal and narrow the bill to first responders.

Cornett said they are the ones most likely to see violent acts, and therefore need to be protected. She said there were times in her work as a police officer, “I probably should have went and seen someone.”

Lawmakers had raised concerns about the breadth of the bill, which could have applied to any worker in the state, even after a new estimate showed the proposed law would likely cost the state far less than originally believed.

Original estimates were between $3.7 million and $26.7 million. But after the Legislative Fiscal Office looked at data from other states, that was reduced to about $130,500.

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