House committee amends workers’ comp bill

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Injured workers receiving workers’ compensation have had unlimited job development and placement services to help them return to work after being rehabilitated and cleared for employment. A bill amended by a House committee proposes to put a six-month limit on worker access to covered services.

HF1359, as amended by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tim Mahoney (DFL-St. Paul), would cap the services of a qualified rehabilitation consultant to 20 hours per month per client. After three months, the client’s progress would be reviewed and up to three more months of consulting services may be provided, if necessary.

The House Jobs and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill as amended Tuesday and referred it to the House Ways and Means Committee. Sen. Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin) sponsors a companion, which was amended into SF1191, the second Senate omnibus retirement bill.

The amendment comes from a recommendation provided by the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council, through negotiation with union and labor industry officials, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Department of Labor and Industry.

Some legislators said six months is not enough time for a previously injured worker to compete for jobs with able-bodied workers and that some may need to change careers due to their injuries. Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) unsuccessfully offered an amendment to expand the six-month limit on QRC services to 12 months, but Mahoney said if adopted, the bill would be vetoed.

Members were also concerned about adding post-traumatic stress disorder as a covered occupational disease under workers’ compensation. The benefits would only apply to a PTSD diagnosis resulting from an incident while on the job, and would not include those with pre-existing conditions. That determination could be fuzzy, according to Rep. Tony Albright (R-Prior Lake).

“Where is the bright line?” Albright said.

For example, it may be difficult to determine whether a person with a history of trauma is eligible for the benefits if a work incident “triggers” PTSD. Kris Eiden, Department of Labor and Industry deputy commissioner, said in that case, a medical professional would determine what caused the work injury or flare up.

Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, which represents about 200,000 workers, said the bill represents the most comprehensive agreement reached in the last 20 years.

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