An E-mail from local FOP representative Nelson Cuba to his “brothers and sisters” called a recent legislative proposal “preposterous and un-american”. It appears our local FOP representative is not happy about proposed legislative changes to Florida’s workers compensation law. The proposed bills would restrict injured workers’ attorneys to payment of services based on a rate structure – a really low one at that. Essentially the Legislature is attempting to correct what it thinks is a court’s wrong decision about the Legislature’s intentions when it rewrote workers compensation laws back in 2003. That 2003 rewrite resulted in Florida’s worker’s compensation rates dropping approximately 60% – no paltry accomplishment. I am sure that during these difficult economic times, rate reductions of 60% were greatly appreciated by any business with 4 people or more (which are required by state law to carry workers compensation insurance). In addition, I am sure that state and local governments were happy, especially since they are self-insured – meaning you and I are paying for workers compensation claims with our hard earned tax dollars. However, in light of that recent court decision, the Office of Insurance Regulation was already proposing to raise workers compensation rates by 6.4% this year, so some members of the Legislature felt it necessary to clarify exactly what they meant in 2003.
While, I would give FOP the point that the rewrite seems unfair to the injured employee, Mr. Cuba seems to me to be overreacting a tad bit given that the House is still considering the bill in committee hearings and the Senate version of the bill hasn’t even been heard in any Senate committees yet. In addition, another bill has been filed in the Senate that would not overturn the court decision, but Mr. Cuba makes no mention of that bill in his E-mail.
According to Mr. Cuba:
In the end this is just not the America I know and came to as a small child. For a citizen to not even be allowed under the law to hire your own attorney is just preposterous and un-American and that alone is reason enough to defeat HB 903.
I read the bill and nowhere does it prohibit an injured person from hiring a lawyer, although it may certainly impact the quality of legal representation the injured worker is able to obtain.
Don’t get me wrong. I have alot of respect and admiration for our men and women in blue and other emergency workers who put their lives on the line every day. But, perhaps Nelson would be waxing more fondly about Florida if he were to visit another state, or another country, like say for instance, Cuba. It seems as if the FOP is going to have to try a little harder to keep Nelson from going out on those ledges he apparently likes to frequent.
The funny thing is, given all the special privileges already enacted in State law and some other legislative proposals filed this year (see below), as I was reading Nelson’s statement, all I could think of was Westside Story and the song “America”. Doesn’t it go something like this?
Police disability for free in Florida….
Police double dip for free in Florida…
Police can connect time served elsewhere, get a guaranteed COLA, and 8% return for free in Florida,
All for a very small workers compensation lawyers’ fee in Florida.
Other state legislative goodies for police, fire, and emergency personnel:
In 2002, the Florida Legislature passed the “Heart-Lung Bill”. That bill provided that if a police officer, corrections officer or firefighter (otherwise called emergency worker) suffered tuberculosis, hypertension, or heart disease that results in total or partial disability or death, it’s presumed to have been accidental and to have been suffered in the line of duty unless the employer can show the contrary by competent evidence (a higher standard of proof than the one that applies to the emergency worker’s presumption). All the while, there is no legal requirement that these emergency workers take measures to prevent hypertension or obesity (which gives rise to hypertension and heart problems) as a condition of their continued employment.
Under proposed HB 697 bill, filed on 2/3/2009, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, or community-based correctional probation officers would only need to prove that they are prevented by their injuries from performing “useful and efficient service in the position held” in order to claim entitlement to in-line-of-duty benefits. In other words, if they cannot perform their duties as a law enforcement officer, etc., they are considered “disabled” for purposes of entitlement to “in-line-of-duty” disability benefits even if they are otherwise employable. In addition, the bill would permit any such “in-line-of-duty” disability recipient to become re-employed after 1 calendar month “without limiting or restricting in any way the retirement benefits payable to that person under this chapter” so long as they were not rehired in any Special Risk Class job.
HB5/SB538 are legislative proposals that would allow municipal police to connect their credit for time served in any federal, state, or county service as long as the service is recognized by the Criminal Justice Standards & Training Commission. For instance, applied locally, this proposal would allow JSO police officers to retire prior to serving twenty years with JSO, as long as they connected other Commission-recognized service from elsewhere. Yet the full impact is on the Police and Fire Pension Fund in having to make lifelong payments to the officer as if they had been employed by JSO for the entire time.