Retention of first responders’ health insurance amended, advanced

Injured first responders could retain their health insurance coverage under a bill advanced from select file April 10.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist15' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Lynne Walz'>Sen. Lynne Walz</a>
Sen. Lynne Walz

LB444, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, would prohibit cities and counties from canceling existing health insurance coverage for any law enforcement officer who suffers serious bodily injury as a result of an assault while in his or her official capacity. The bill also would cover injured sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, firefighters and mental health care providers.

The city or county would be obligated to provide health insurance while the first responder remains employed with the agency and returns to work within one year of the original injury.

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz introduced an amendment during select file debate that would incorporate provisions of her LB244. As amended, the bill would extend workers’ compensation benefits to employees of the state Department of Correctional Services and Department of Health and Human Services who regularly and directly interact with high-risk individuals.

A high-risk individual would include a person in state custody with a history of violent or physically intimidating behavior, including a committed offender, regional center patient and a committed juvenile offender.

Bolz said only 21 claims have been filed since 2010, when such benefits were initially approved for first responders. Those claims have cost the state only $529 since 2010, she said.

“This protection for our [frontline employees] who face so many of the same pressures and trauma is worth the potential claims to our workers’ compensation court,” Bolz said.

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers supported the amendment, saying people working in correctional facilities often witness traumatic events.

“There are things they’re required to do vis-à-vis the inmates which no one should be required to do as part of a job,” he said. “It’s not just the inmates suffering but the ones who have to guard them.”

Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward opposed the amendment, citing a potential influx of claims to the court and the associated costs to the state. He said the bill would directly impact everyone who pays insurance premiums in the state.

Following adoption of the Bolz amendment on a 26-3 vote, senators advanced the bill to final reading by a voice vote.

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