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House approves workers’ comp for first responders during first-ever remote session

On Tuesday, April 7, the Minnesota House of Representatives convened its first-ever remote session. Under a new rule created to keep our democracy functioning during this unprecedented public health crisis, legislators called a secure phone line to participate and cast votes.

At least 90 legislators were present within the City of Saint Paul, Minnesota’s seat of government, to conduct our legislative business as the state Constitution prescribes. Of the total legislators within Saint Paul, a small group were actually present on the House floor in our state Capitol, and did so while adhering to public health guidelines. The Minnesota House is adapting to do the people’s work as we were elected to do, and we are committed to helping address the economic uncertainty so many families and businesses are facing right now.

Far more important than how the session was conducted is the bill was approved by a 130-4 vote. As a result of collaboration between labor and businesses, bipartisan cooperation in the House and Senate, and the signature of Governor Tim Walz, the first responders on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic will be able to access workers’ compensation benefits if they contract the virus. Moving this bill across the finish line is a big victory for Minnesota’s nurses, EMS personnel, firefighters, police officers, health care professionals, home health care workers, and child care providers caring for children of essential workers.

These individuals have streamlined eligibility for workers’ comp benefits by showing a positive laboratory test for COVID-19, which includes a written copy of the test. If a laboratory test is not available, an individual could provide a written diagnosis for COVID-19 based on the worker’s symptoms from a licensed physician, licensed physician’s assistant or licensed advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). You can find more information and specifics about the bill at www.house.mn/covid-19.

First responders and health care workers put themselves at risk every day to keep us safe and healthy. This new law establishes a presumption that if these workers contract the virus, they did so during their employment and are covered by workers’ compensation. Our first responders and health care workers are doing a remarkable job taking care of Minnesotans despite an unacceptable shortage of personal protective equipment and other resources. Giving them and their families more economic security is the right thing to do. This is a first step and we know there are other individuals who need support and protection as well.

Lastly, we recently learned Minnesota’s Stay at Home order has been extended to May 4, 2020. The Governor’s order to stay home is forecasted to significantly slow the spread of COVID-19, pushing out the peak of the disease and allowing the state to continue key preparations for the pandemic, such as building new hospital capacity, buying ventilators and masks, planning for how to protect those most at risk, expanding testing, and freeing up time for health care giants like the Mayo Clinic to develop critical treatments for the virus.

No one takes these decisions lightly. I want to acknowledge the sacrifices you and your family are making and thank you for everything you are doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Minnesota is rising to the challenge and following public health guidelines — and it’s making a big difference compared to other states’ experiences. Thank you for the kindness and generosity you are showing your neighbors. Together we can get through this.