The measure, which represents a compromise between employers and labor groups, is aimed at addressing troubling trends around public safety duty disabilities related to post-traumatic stress disorder.
A bill aimed at curbing the number of public safety employees seeking duty disability claims for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz. The measure was passed by the full Senate on a bipartisan vote of 40-22 on May 11. The House voted 78-54 to concur with the Senate version of the bill on May 15. Most provisions will be effective July 1, 2023.
The measure, 2023 Session Law Chapter 48 (Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul/Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato), represents the work of public safety stakeholders and the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA) over multiple years. The legislation is consistent with the League’s legislative policy position on addressing duty disability issues and the League supports the legislation.
What’s included in the law
Key provisions in the new law will:
- Require treatment for a mental injury before an employee can file for a related duty disability through PERA.
- Keep injured employees on payroll while they are receiving treatment for a mental injury.
- Provide state financial support for employers to continue pay and benefits for injured employees while they are off duty for treatment.
- Fully reimburse employers for the cost of a continued health insurance benefit for disabled employees or dependents of those killed in the line of duty if the employer has implemented mental injury prevention measures such as peer support.
- Require learning objectives and preservice training that prepares peace officers and firefighters for the stressful and traumatic events that are common to their jobs and teach officers methods to process and cope with stress and trauma.
- Adjust the vesting schedule in PERA so members would be fully vested after 10 years as opposed to the current 20.
- Clarify the reapplication process for PERA disability recipients to require reapplication each year for the first five years and every three years after that.
- Increase duty total and permanent disability benefits to 99% of the member’s average high-five salary.
- Modify the current offsets against disability benefits for reemployment earnings by:
- Capturing a portion of re-earnings to make employee contributions to PERA for employees with less than 20 years of service.
- Reducing $1 for every $2 that the disability benefit plus reemployment earnings exceeds 100% of pay, and $1 for every $1 when the sum exceeds 125% for an active member in a comparable position.
- Eliminate the workers’ compensation offsets against disability benefits.
The joint House and Senate Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR) appropriated $104 million in one-time funding budgeted for the measure. Both authors have acknowledged ongoing funding will need to be addressed once the bill is enacted.
Differences between the House and Senate versions
Prior to final passage, the key difference between the House and Senate versions of the bill was the House version contained a provision prohibiting settlements or lump sum payments in lieu of the continued health insurance benefit required under Minnesota Statutes, section 299A.465. The provision was not included in the bill as enacted.
The legislation is the product of collaborative efforts between employers, including the League of Minnesota Cities, and public safety labor and management groups. The work was informed by PERA staff as well as treatment providers.
The PERA provisions in the bill drew opposition from plan members who retired with a duty disability and their attorneys. They objected to the offset provision that prevents retirees collecting a duty disability from stacking pension benefits and reemployment earnings before age 55. They also have concerns about the reapplication provision, which was requested by PERA as codification of existing practice.
The PERA Board of Trustees endorsed the PERA provisions in the bill before those provisions were added to the bill as an amendment. The PERA provisions do not in any way reduce benefits or make ongoing access to disability benefits more difficult for injured employees. PERA staff has produced extensive information to counter misinformation being disseminated to law enforcement employees. City officials are encouraged to use this information in response to questions or concerns about the legislation.
The League will be working to make sure implementation goes as smoothly as possible. Many of the provisions will require new state and local policies and systems. The League is also planning to offer a webinar to members on details of the law at a later date.