Two bills have been introduced in the 2019-2020 session in an effort to provide assistance to first responders suffering from post-traumatic stress injury or PTSI. The League believes post-traumatic stress injury is a serious illness that should be addressed from a prevention perspective first and foremost.
House Bill 1459 was signed into law as Act 69 on July 23, 2020 and will take effect immediately. The Act establishes a new chapter within Title 35 (Health and Safety) providing for an emergency responder mental wellness and stress management program within the Department of Health.
The department is responsible for developing mental health and stress management guidelines to assist emergency responders who suffer from post-traumatic stress injury or traumatic brain injury as a result of their employment and for those exposed to critical incidents. Regional peer to peer support programs and a toll-free confidential helpline with a trained operator are required services. Additionally, the act establishes a Critical Incident Stress Management Program, as well as a trauma and suicide awareness training program, which is required continuing education for EMS providers.
The act amends Section 7704 regarding immunity from civil liability. As a general rule, commonwealth agencies are added to the commonwealth and political subdivision as entities not liable for death or injury. Additionally, gross negligence, recklessness or bad faith are added to the list of actions that would negate civil immunity. Finally, a person, agent or employee who is temporarily deployed in response to a mutual aid request shall be granted immunity except in cases of willful misconduct, gross negligence, recklessness or bad faith and shall not be liable for death or injury to persons or for damage to loss of property. No immunity shall be granted to persons under this section unless deployed by the commonwealth.
House Bill 432 has been reported out of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Management Committee, but has not yet been taken up by the full House. The League does not support the current version of this bill which amends the PA Workers’ Compensation Act. The intent of the bill is to make it easier for first responders to receive workers’ compensation benefits for PTSI. The current language is broad however; and, in our estimation, will create an uninsurable benefit. If enacted, workers’ compensation insurance premiums will skyrocket and local tax dollars will be diverted away from support programs for first responders to pay premiums and defend claims.