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Legislative committee passes contested extension of COVID presumption

Policy committees in the California Senate passed a bill that would extend COVID-19 presumptions for two years.

The Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement on Wednesday voted to pass A.B. 1751, would extend presumptions of compensability for COVID-19 through Jan. 1, 2025.

Lawmakers in 2020 enacted S.B. 1159, which created a presumption that COVID-19 is compensable for specified first responders who test positive for the disease within 14 days of going to work. The bill also created a presumption that COVID-19 is compensable for others who test positive within 14 days of going to a workplace experiencing an outbreak. Both presumptions are scheduled to sunset Jan. 1.

According to the bill analysis prepared for Wednesday’s hearing, the California Nurses Association said the state has not done enough to protect frontline workers from COVID-19. A lobbyist for the Peace Officers Research Association of California, California Association of Highway Patrolmen and Cal Fire Local 2881 said lawmakers should preserve the presumption because COVID-19 remains a public health crisis.

The California Chamber of Commerce argued against the bill, saying data from the California Workers’ Compensation Institute shows employers have accepted most COVID-19 claims.

CWCI reports that employers approved 84.5% of claims by public sector government and safety workers and 74.6% of health care worker claims.

A lobbyist for the California Coalition on Workers’ Compensation, said during Wednesday’s hearing that while he thinks employers have already demonstrated they are capable of handling COVID-19 claims without a presumption, he understands why lawmakers might want to keep the law on the books while the pandemic hopefully winds down.

However, he suggested that the bill be amended to extend the presumption for one year instead of two. He said lawmakers could extend it again next year if necessary.

The bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee for further deliberations.

This article was first published in Business Insurance.

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