Ohio workers' comp bill stripped of first responder PTSD coverage
A bid to save PTSD coverage for first responders fell one vote short in the conference committee
By Randy Ludlow
Akron Beacon Journal
COLUMBUS, Ohio — A long-term budget for the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation — without coverage for first responders' post-traumatic stress disorder — appears headed for passage Wednesday by the General Assembly.
A conference committee of House and Senate members voted unanimously Wednesday morning to approve a compromise bill, sending it to scheduled floor votes later in the day.
Uncomfortable with policy provisions inserted into the budget by majority House Republicans, including Speaker Larry Householder of Glenford, the Senate stripped out the proposals, vowing to handle PTSD coverage for public safety workers in separate legislation later in the year.
A bid this morning to save PTSD coverage for police officers, firefighters and others fell one vote short in the conference committee. An amendment by Sen. Hearcel Craig, D-Columbus, to restore the coverage won additional votes from all three House members.
However, the "no" votes of the two Republican Senate members sent it to defeat, despite the 4-2 vote, since conference committee matters require "yes" votes from two members of each chamber for passage.
Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio lobbyist Michael Weinman said the organization has worked eight years to gain coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"This was a perfect opportunity to get PTSD into law," he said this morning. "This further delay is going to cost first responders their lives."
Weinman said untreated mental trauma contributes to suicides.
Unable to reach an agreement on a Bureau of Workers' Compensation budget prior to the June 30 deadline, similar to the state operating budget, the House and Senate voted last month to grant the agency a 30-day interim budget.
The $320 million bureau budget, funded by employer-paid premiums, provides health care and wage replacement for workers injured on the job.
Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, supports providing PTSD coverage for first responders — without physical injuries — who suffer job-related mental trauma, saying it deserved study and hearings to produce a "cleaner version."
But Householder said earlier, "This is an issue in the state that's been debated for a number of years. I don't think there is any more debate to be had."
State retirement funds grant disability benefits to public employees for PTSD on a case-by-case basis.
The speaker also was displeased with the Senate killing provisions to more clearly distinguish independent contractors from employees but dropped his chamber's budget provision requiring those filing injury claims to list their citizenship and immigration status and reveal whether they were an undocumented worker.
The Senate also removed a House-passed provision to allocate $11 million in disaster funds to provide the local government match for nine southeastern Ohio counties to obtain federal disaster funds following flooding in April. The nine counties included Householder's home county of Perry.
©2019 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)