AUGUSTA -- Firefighters, police officers and other first responders turned out for a public hearing Wednesday to oppose a bill that would curb eligibility for permanent coverage for mental illnesses under Maine workers' compensation law.
State Rep. Kerri Prescott, R-Topsham, who proposed L.D. 1065, said it is needed to reduce litigation and avoid "unreliable" workers' compensation claims.
The measure, which came before the Legislature's Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development Committee, was supported by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Workers' Compensation Coordinating Council and the Maine Council of Self-Insureds.
"What we have seen in the field is, in the last several years, a significant increase in claims that physical injuries have psychiatric components to them, such as depression because of disability, economic factors, pain and so forth," said Kevin Gillis, executive director of the Workers' Compensation Coordinating Council and the Maine Council of Self-Insureds.
The determination of "permanent impairment" comes when injured workers have used up their benefits, which last 10 years.
Many firefighters and police officers testified against the bill, saying many in their field have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and other serious emotional disabilities for just doing their jobs.
William Fournier, an Auburn police officer, supervised the crime scene when Angela Palmer, a 4-year-old girl, was killed in an oven in 1984. He said the incident still haunts him.
"One particular incident, (my wife) heard a commotion in the dining room, which was me screaming. I had my service revolver loaded, at my head, and the hammer was cocked," he said. "I have no recollection of this whatsoever."
Fournier said he was denied workers' compensation by the city of Auburn.
"I did my job; I did it right. I implore you people, as this committee, to seriously think about this," he said. "I think your first responders deserve better."
Paul Sighinolfi, executive director of the Workers' Compensation Board, said the panel voted unanimously to oppose Prescott's bill.
"Our workers' compensation act recognizes emotional injury; if you say that you can't get (permanent impairment) for an emotional injury, what you are essentially saying is we're going to carve out that group of injuries and say those people can't get benefits to which all others may be eligible to get," he said. "We think that's simply unfair."