Workers’ Compensation – legislators

Wyo legislators deserve Workers’ Compensation

Insurance coverage can prevent family economic disaster

Sens. Drew Perkins, left, and Ray Peterson on the floor of the state Senate.

Wyoming legislators deserve Workers Compensation coverage when they drive across the far-flung reaches of Wyoming to attend committee meetings around the state and while serving in legislative sessions in Cheyenne. The coverage will cost little. It simply insures that if a citizen legislator suffers an injury, he or she will get the medical care they need to enable them to return to work as quickly as possible. Wage benefits coverage means the legislator’s family may be able to avoid dire economic losses because of an injury suffered while on official legislative business. If the legislator’s injuries result in death, Workers Comp benefits may help surviving family members avoid bankruptcy while they scramble to replace income lost as a result of a fatality. Never happen, you say? We know at least one legislator was killed while traveling. In 1971, Rep. Nancy Wallace, a Uinta County Republican, died in a crash while driving home from Cheyenne. Unfortunately, the Star-Tribune has chosen to attack the idea. The ESPC and the League of Women Voters suggested a study by the Legislature’s Management Council after it learned of the economic troubles faced by Rock Springs Rep. Steve Watt after he fell at a legislative training session last December and was taken to the local hospital by ambulance. Watt had no personal medical insurance to cover the medical costs.

Rep. Steve Watt

But that didn’t stop the Star-Tribune from attacking Watt personally in an attempt to discredit the idea. “ … Rep. Steve Watt miscalculated a sneaky chair that slipped out from under him. Will the state cover the rest of us who fell off our chairs laughing when we read about the idea?” the CST wrote in its March 23rd Cheers and Jeers section. Sometimes, Steve Watt does have a difficult time sitting and walking. Sometimes the former Wyoming Highway Patrolman must use a wheelchair because of the injuries he suffered when he was shot five times by a bank robber during a 1982 traffic stop in Sweetwater County. One of the bullets remains in his body, near his spine, more than 30 years later. Providing Workers Compensation coverage to legislators is not a radical idea. Others states already do. For instance, “employee” is defined under Connecticut’s Workers’ Compensation Act to include any person who “is elected to serve as a member of the General Assembly of this state.” See: CSG 31-277 No matter if the legislator is part time or full time, if a legislator is collecting a salary and is otherwise on the state’s “payroll,” she should be eligible to be covered by Workers’ Compensation while providing services to the state. The cost of ensuring Wyoming legislators would be low, just over $300 a year per legislator, according to initial estimates provided by the Department of Workforce Services. When a state legislator like Rep. Watt does incur an injury on the job, justice dictates that we provide him fair and equal treatment in consideration of his injuries. These civil servants should be afforded the same protection as other state employees – many of whom also have families to support whether they are healthy or otherwise. Workers’ Compensation exists to provide the medical care an injured worker needs to get back to his or her job after an injury. It means a family suddenly deprived of a primary breadwinner has decent support from the Workers Compensation fund. In return, employers know they face no civil liability for ordinary or even willful negligence. The insurance policy buys them protection, too. That’s the promise of Workers’ Compensation in the private market. It protects both parties to the contract. We urge the Management Council to give the idea careful consideration.   (ESPC op-ed on this proposal was published April 5, 2013 in the Casper Star-Tribune.)  

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