FRANKFORT, Ky. — (Editor's Note: The original version of this story listed Representative McKenzie Cantrell as a Republican. It has been corrected.)
Let’s face it, legislation is hard to read unless you’re…you know, a legislator.
House Bill 40 is currently up for debate and, if it passes, it would be a huge relief for first responders in Kentucky. We broke down this bill to stress how important it is for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day.
This bill affects Kentucky Revised Statute Title XXVII, Chapter 342. This chapter defines workers’ compensation and how it should be applied.
The bill was pre-filed by Representatives Joni Jenkins (D) and McKenzie Cantrell (D) on September 24, 2018 and was submitted to the Economic Development and Workforce Investment Committee on January 10, 2019, where it remains 40 days later.
Full text of HB 40 - if the PDF does not appear, click here to view.
At face value, this bill does two things:
- Amends Section 1 of KRS 342.0011, which defines important terms, to clarify the definition of “injury” to include psychological injuries
- Creates a new section of KRS 342 that clarifies what needs to happen in order to claim a mental injury
First things first, what is a first responder? House Bill 40 is specifically targeted toward police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services personnel, according to Section 1, Paragraph b. Lawmakers have suggested that once this bill is passed, other groups could be included, but this is the first step.
The way Kentucky laws are right now, if a person develops a “mental injury” such as PTSD due to a work-related event, but is not physically hurt, that person is not eligible to get help with medical expenses or extended time off. This is stated in Chapter 342: “Injury,” the statute says, “…shall not include a psychological, psychiatric, or stress-related change…unless it is a direct result of a physical injury.”
LMPD officer Lamont Washington explained it this way: “If you and I are partners and we walk into a house and you witness me get my head blown off, and you get PTSD, tough on you. Because you don’t have a physical injury.”
House Bill 40 wouldn’t change that - it would just add a second definition of “injury” that would only apply to first responders. The rest of Section 1 reads the same.
The new section of Chapter 342, the second part of House Bill 40, goes into the details of what would qualify as an eligible mental injury.
Under this section, the mental injury is only eligible if it satisfies these three things:
- The injury was the result of a work-related event or “cumulative work-related stress”.
- The event or stress was “extraordinary and unusual” compared to what an average employee would encounter.
- The event or stress was the cause of the mental injury.
The bill does not specifically cover what would be considered “extraordinary and unusual”, leaving that definition up to the employer. It does clarify that a mental injury is not eligible for workers’ compensation if it stemmed from something like a disciplinary action, demotion, or termination.
The first responder must also be diagnosed with a mental injury by a “qualified mental health professional” within three years of their last day of work. Once the mental injury is confirmed, the employer is then responsible for that employee’s benefits.
According to House Bill 40, a qualified mental health professional includes:
- Licensed psychiatrist
- Licensed psychologist
- Licensed registered nurse
- Licensed clinical social worker
- Marriage/family therapist
- Professional counselor
- Physician assistant
Finally, if evidence comes to light that suggests that the first responder’s mental injury was caused by something not work-related, then it may not be eligible for workers’ compensation.
So, why is this bill so important? First responders are already reluctant to come forward when they’re struggling with something like PTSD. The stigma surrounding mental injury is very real, although there are people fighting to put an end to it.
However, when a first responder does muster up the courage to come forward, their resources to get help are limited. If they aren’t allowed to have time to heal or can’t afford professional help, they may be forced into early retirement. Or, worse, they could turn to alcohol, drugs, or even suicide.
The passage of this bill is the support our first responders need – and they need it now.
Want to know what this would look like in action? Florida and Nebraska have both passed similar legislation – see for yourself.