A proposal to address a flurry of post-traumatic stress disorder claims by police and first responders continues to face formidable opposition from powerful police allies as lawmakers struggle to broker a deal on a special legislative session.
The bill requires first responders to undergo treatment before they are eligible for permanent disability pension benefits. Mental health experts say PTSD is highly treatable, and proponents of the legislation say many police and firefighters would recover enough to return to work, significantly reducing the number of employees who end up on disability.
The number of police officers and first responders seeking disability benefits for PTSD has skyrocketed in Minnesota, particularly after the police killing of George Floyd two years ago. The demands have drained police ranks, particularly in Minneapolis, and threaten to strain local government budgets and the pension system.
“Chiefs are telling me we have to do something,” said Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Chiefs of Police, which supports the measure. He touts the proposal as a way for people to get treatment and join the ranks of the police.
The proposal provides for mental health treatment for 24 weeks – with an option of an additional eight weeks – if medical professionals and the patient agree it is necessary. It would also pay the cost of medical insurance for first responders who already receive disability benefits for PTSD, now largely borne by cities and counties. The estimated annual cost to the state is approximately $25 million.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association (MPPOA), which represents more than 9,000 licensed peace officers in Minnesota, says the measure “does not benefit those seeking treatment.”
MPPOA officials criticized the bill in a letter in March, saying police would not be paid during treatment or covered by medical insurance. Legislative leaders made a belated change to allow state reimbursement to cities and counties for treatment costs, salaries and medical insurance.
Leslie Rosedahl, a spokeswoman for the MPPOA, said she was not convinced the new version fully addressed the organization’s concerns.
Supporters say the bill could help first responders and save money
Statewide groups that represent employers — including the League of Minnesota Cities, the Minnesota Counties Association and the Minnesota Association of Chiefs of Police — support the legislation. They say it could help traumatized first responders and save millions of dollars in payments by cities and counties for PTSD claims that strain local budgets.
Payouts for workers’ compensation claims related to PTSD in Minneapolis topped $23 million in the two years since the murder of George Floyd. Meuser, Yackley and Rowland, an Eden Prairie law firm that says it represents 90% of PTSD claimants statewide, predicts Minneapolis could end up shelling out $35 million.
Claims by police and firefighters for permanent disability due to PTSD continue to flood the state pension system. There were 118 requests, mostly for PTSD, in 2019, 241 in 2020 and 307 in 2021. As of May 31, there had been 118 requests so far this year.
With more officers with disabilities quitting and fewer recruits being trained, the police department is understaffed as “the candidate pipeline has dried up,” Potts said.
“Everyone, including MPPOA, recognizes that the current situation is unsustainable,” said Matt Hilgart, government relations manager for the Minnesota Counties Association.
But the MPPOA refused to support the legislation.
“That’s our biggest hurdle,” said State Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, a key supporter of the bill. “I think it’s an educational process to onboard them, to trust them. … They’re worried about losing an advantage, and we’re actually trying to give them access to more advantages.”
Supporters of the bill say they have struggled to address concerns from groups, including the MPPOA, since Howe and state Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis introduced the bill this year. It has since undergone nine revisions.
“We all identified the problem, which is that the current system is not working well, neither for employers nor for employees,” Long said. “But there was a different level of engagement to try to resolve the issue,” and the MPPOA “was reluctant to come to the table to negotiate.”
“I really don’t understand why an organization that represents police officers wouldn’t support this legislation,” said state Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope. “This legislation is designed to ensure that peace officers will get the mental health services they need.”
Still, Long and other lawmakers are hoping for compromises on other law enforcement issues that could lead to passage of the PTSD bill if a special session is called. Talks were held last week between members of Gov. Tim Walz’s administration and legislative leaders and committee chairs to see if they could strike a deal.
Despite the revisions, still no support from the group
The original legislation would have required officers with PTSD to undergo up to 32 weeks of treatment before they could receive workers’ compensation. Due to the complications of workers’ compensation and the resulting criticism, lawmakers decided to remove the links between workers’ compensation and treatment. They rewrote the bill to say that officers must undergo treatment before becoming eligible for permanent disability benefits through the state retirement system.
The current bill reduces the duration of treatment from 32 weeks to 24 weeks, with an option for an additional eight weeks.
When asked why the MPPOA opposes the bill even with the revisions, Rosedahl cited the letter the MPPOA released in March before the revisions and an undated flyer signed by a coalition of enforcement groups. of the law, including the MPPOA, which makes many of the same arguments.
“There is disagreement that the issues are actually resolved, as the authors say,” Rosedahl said in an email last week.
Professional firefighters in Minnesota, who had opposed the bill, now generally support it, said Scott Vadnais, the group’s new president. But he wants to see other groups of employees join him before his organization approves him.
If the bill passes, the new system will come into effect on July 1. Doug Anderson, executive director of the Minnesota Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA), which administers pensions, said he’s worried his agency won’t be able to handle it. properly if it takes effect so soon. Long, the sponsor of the bill, said the implementation date could be changed.
Anderson said he was also concerned the bill lacked support from all sides. “We want employer groups and employee groups to be in sync on this,” he said.
Anderson said police and fire employees currently pay 11.8% of their salary into their pension plan and employers pay 17.7%. The plan is well funded, he said, but if investment returns are poor and the number of firefighters and police continues to decline, it increases the likelihood that employee and employer pension contributions will need to be cut. increased in the future.
The Meuser Company is one of the bill’s most ardent critics – but CEO Ron Meuser Jr. declined to say exactly what they are criticizing.
“We have expressed our concerns about the various bills, and the authors of the bill are fully aware of our concerns,” he said.
Howe said it’s understandable that the law firm opposes the legislation because of the money it makes from the settlements.
“When you talk to the Meuser [firm]they are the ones who will benefit if nothing changes,” Howe said. “They are the ones who bring the money to the bank.
Meuser denied Howe’s allegations.
“Every time the Legislative Assembly seeks to change or manage the law, our revenue would increase,” he said. He called the bill “unenforceable, poorly written, and pushed by the Minnesota League of Cities to save money.” [with] no intention of actually helping responders who are suffering from the effects of PTSD. It’s about saving money for cities and counties.”
Anne Finn, assistant director of intergovernmental relations for the League of Minnesota Cities, said the bill gives first responders a new advantage. “The bill keeps people financially healthy while they recover from a mental injury, and if they can’t return to work, they get the same benefits they get now,” she said. declared.
Walz will have to assess the wording of the bill if it makes it to his desk, press secretary Claire Lancaster said.
“The governor recognizes the personnel and financial constraints resulting from this trend and is focused on his proposed public safety program which includes funding for law enforcement,” she said.
Writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this article.