Legislators seek coverage for first-responders

Staff Writer
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

OKLAHOMA CITY – A group of Republican lawmakers from the Oklahoma House of Representatives is sending a letter to the Oklahoma Municipal League (OML), Oklahoma Municipal Assurance Group (OMAG), CompSource Oklahoma and self-funded municipalities asking them to cover and provide workers’ compensation benefits to any first responder testing positive for COVID-19.

The letter reads:

“As Oklahomans face the global COVID-19 pandemic, we are continuously reminded of the bravery of our first responders and the sacrifices our first responders make. Most of us are doing our part in confronting this virus by staying sheltered at home with our families. Our first responders, on the other hand, report to the front lines day after day, facing danger and uncertainty head on. With the spread of COVID-19, they not only put themselves, but also their families, in harm’s way. This reminder is only magnified when we know our first responders are responding to emergency calls without proper personal protective equipment (PPE).

“OML, OMAG, and CompSource Oklahoma work together to provide first-dollar workers’ compensation benefits to first responders and municipal employees. Many of the larger municipalities cover their first responders via self-funded and partially self-funded workers’ compensation programs. All of these programs are ultimately taxpayer funded.

“In recent days, there has been confusion throughout the state on what happens if one of these first responders contracts COVID-19. OML, OMAG, CompSource Oklahoma and all partially self-funded and self-funded municipalities should cover and provide workers compensation benefits presumptively to any first responder testing positive for COVID-19.

“We call on OML, OMAG, CompSource Oklahoma, and self-funded municipalities to grant first responders who have contracted COVID-19 the presumption that they were exposed to the virus on the job. Such a presumption would not be unusual and is supported by the national shortage of PPE first responders have faced due to the sudden and unprecedented nature of the spread of this virus.

“Without this equipment and with the delay of testing capabilities early on, they have faced and continue to face heightened exposure to the virus in the course of their duties. First responders have had no way of knowing at which point in their duties they may have interacted with an infected individual, especially an asymptomatic individual, which might lead to the contraction of COVID-19.Finally, Oklahomans value the service and sacrifice of our first responders, especially during crises. That should be reflected in our policies and procedures when it comes to making sure our first responders are compensated and cared for when we need each other most.”

Sending the letter are State Reps. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee; Kyle Hilbert, R-Bristow; Mark Lawson, R-Sapulpa; Marcus McEntire, R-Duncan; and Josh West, R-Grove.