HARTFORD, CT — Municipal officials told legislators Thursday that towns cannot afford the cost of legislation that would mandate workers’ compensation coverage for cops, firefighters and emergency medical technicians who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of witnessing a death.
Those same officials, added, that towns also have programs in place to handle post-traumatic stress and that the last thing needed now is another unfunded, costly mandate from a state that can’t get its own financial books in order.
It’s not the first year the bill has been raised and this year’s bill is similar to ones introduced in the previous sessions.
Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary, a former police chief in Waterbury, told the committee: “I believe in post-traumatic stress disorder. There is no question about it.”
“What’s really alarming to me and to the other members of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities quite frankly, and I say this with all due respect to this committee, and the committee I spoke in front of two days ago regarding this issue, is there hasn’t been enough dialogue between police chiefs, mayors and legislators,” O’Leary said.
O’Leary said he was in law enforcement for 32 years and “ the city of Waterbury has over the last 30 years developed employee assistance programs that deal directly with PTSD.”
“This legislation that you propose is ambiguous, broad and has many,many unintended financial consequences to cities and towns. In many case I’m sure you all don’t realize that most city and towns have employee assistance programs that deal with this issue.”
O’Leary then told the committee, “This is where I get into trouble. When you become a police officer, you know you are going to carry a gun and you know what your job is. The training at the post-academy and the state police academy does provide enormous opportunity for you to, during that period of time, to understand what you are going to deal with or could deal with on a day-to-day basis.
“Some people say, ‘You know what, I can’t do it’ and they leave during the training — and that’s a good thing,” O’Leary said.
“You know when you are a police officer, you know when you are a firefighter, and you know when you drive an ambulance or an EMS person, you are going to see this type of things. There’s a part of me — and it’s and old-school part of me, that’s what the job entails,” O’Leary continued.
Also testifying against the proposed bill was Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne.
“I have serious concerns that this would be another costly unfunded mandate to towns and cities. If the bill would be enacted the financial implications likely would be considerable,” Cockayne said.
“This bill runs counter to challenges we are already facing with already struggling budgets,” the Bristol mayor said.
Adding its opposition was the Connecticut Council of Small Towns (COST).
“Connecticut’s small towns and cities have tremendous respect and appreciation for our police, firefighters and emergency medical technicians,” Kathryn Dube, director of membership and legislative services, said. “However, we are very concerned that SB 763 opens the doors for changes in workers’ compensation that will place a heavy burden on our towns and local property taxpayers.”
Legislators told the mayors they understood the concerns over costs, but also said there was a void in at least some areas of coverage for many first responders.
“From my standpoint, and from what I’ve seen, there’s a distinct reason” for the legislation, Sen. Ed Gomes, D-Bridgeport, said.
One of those imploring the committee to pass legislation was State Trooper Chris Kick, who was one of the troopers who went to Sandy Hook Elementary School in December of 2012, where 20 children and six adult staffers were killed by a lone gunman.
In written testimony, Kick said:“ Normal life has not been resumed in our household since that day. My sleep patterns are erratic, I experience frequent nightmares, I am told I disassociate while at home. I am moody, angry, irritable, and no longer feel like engaging in the regular activities every family member should be able to enjoy.
“The guilt of that day as well as the vision of it, haunts me. If you wish to join me in these realities, carry a teacher, bloodied from gunshot wounds, into your car, the same car that you still drive today and then carry an 8-year-old child to an ambulance that you know will not survive, and then run back into a building and look for more. I wiped that same child’s brain matter off my sleeve that day,” Kick said.
“No amount of self-medication helped me in this reality, and no one approached me, or anyone else that I am aware of, to assist over the past several years. Many people ask us what has been done by our employer to assist the Troopers who have been affected by this event. The answer is nothing.
“My wife and I see someone together, I see someone on my own, my children must go separately to see someone, and I also see a psychiatrist, regularly. It is this psychiatrist who ultimately decided, along with the rest of my treatment team, to take me off the job the day following this past four-year anniversary, on December 15, 2016, and I have been out ever since. This decision, however, has been doubly anxiety producing due to the fact I now do not know where my next paycheck is coming from.”
Last year, lawmakers and municipalities were able to figure out a way to cover fire fighters for certain job-related cancers. That legislation used a small amount of money from the Enhanced 9-1-1 Telecommunications Fund to help create the fund, which helps firefighters continue to receive pay while fighting cancer.
Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, said Tuesday that she’s hoping they can find a similar solution to this issue.
She said they’ve already begun to make changes to the proposal based on feedback from municipalities. She said they removed automobile accidents as a qualifying event and are working on reducing the number of fiscal concerns expressed by municipal officials.
However, she stressed the importance of treatment.