Upon reaching the deadline for bill introductions in the California Legislature, February 17th, no one was attempting to reauthorize the various workers’ comp presumptions of compensability for Covid-19 we have been dealing with since 2020. Indeed, a presumption may finally sunset. When looking at new presumptions bills in the queue, however, it may suggest the specific Covid-19 presumptions were sufficiently difficult to navigate that no stakeholder wants to see or hear of them again.
The commencement of the 2023 Session would appear to indicate presumptions are still embraced by policymakers in Sacramento. This extends, or for now is lead, by presumptions Governor Newsom already vetoed last year. Senate Bill 391 (Blakespear) expands the scope of skin cancer presumptions to certain peace officers of the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Parks and Recreation. This bill is identical to the vetoed Assembly Bill 334 (Mullin).
For injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2024, Assembly Bill 597 (Garcia) would make the post-traumatic stress presumption applicable to firefighting members of the State Department of State Hospitals, the State Department of Developmental Services, the Military Department, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. It would also extend to additional peace officers, including security officers of the Department of Justice, and the officers of a state hospital under the jurisdiction of the State Department of State Hospitals or the State Department of Developmental Services. The bill would also make the presumption applicable to public safety dispatchers, public safety telecommunicators, emergency response communication employees, and emergency medical technicians and paramedics. This bill is substantially similar to Senate Bill 284 (Stern) also vetoed last year.
Also dealing with PTSD presumptions is Senate Bill 623 (Laird), currently an “intent” bill, and Assembly Bill 1107 (Mathis) which extends the existing presumption of compensability to additional members and employees of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Assembly Bill 699 (Weber) makes various presumptions of compensability, including for PTSD, applicable to lifeguards employed on a year-round, full-time basis in the Boating Safety Unit by the City of San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
Many eyes will be on Assembly Bill 1156 (Bonta). The bill defines “injury,” for a hospital employee who provides direct patient care in an acute care hospital, to include infectious diseases, cancer, musculoskeletal injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, and respiratory diseases. The bill would include the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) from SARS-CoV-2 and its variants, among other conditions, in the definitions of infectious and respiratory diseases. The bill would create rebuttable presumptions that these injuries that develop or manifest in a hospital employee who provides direct patient care in an acute care hospital arose out of and in the course of the employment. The bill would extend these presumptions for specified time periods after the hospital employee’s termination of employment.
This is the third attempt to get this issue to the Governor.
It is very early in the legislative session. How far these bills move through the process remains to be seen. At some point, perhaps the Legislature’s fondness for presumptions will turn into scrutiny of what they – all of them – actually accomplish.
Not happening this year, it would seem.
Note: The opinions expressed herein may or may not be those of Workers’ Comp Executive. Mark Webb is a former Arizona insurance regulator, insurance company chief compliance officer, and is an expert in corporate governance, risk and compliance. He is the owner of Prop 23 Advisors.