By: Lucinda Holt
Lubbock Avalanche Journal
First responders injured in the line of duty would have access to a liaison to assist in workers’ compensation claims and disputes under House Bill 2082, which was approved by the Texas House Tuesday evening.
The bill authored by State Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, states an ombudsman will be created within the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation and will serve injured first responders by assisting them through the claim process and, if applicable, with any disputes that may arise.
“It is an honor to represent first responders in HD-83 and across Texas,” Burrows said in a statement after the vote. “Our injured and wounded first responders must have their worker’s compensation claims processed quickly and fairly.”
Mary Duncan, West Texas Crime Victim’s Coalition president, has worked alongside city and state leaders as a voice for injured first responders, eventually collaborating with Burrows.
On April 3, Duncan and area injured first responders testified before the state’s Business and Industry Committee and left on a positive note as Duncan said the testimonies were emotional and well-received.
After the bill passed the House, she sent a statement saying, “I am beyond excited for our first responders. We all have worked so hard to see that our first responders receive the medical attention they deserve. (I’m) feeling so blessed by all the support we received by so many from so many jurisdictions.”
She also said working with state legislators has been a memorable journey.
The bill was developed after Duncan began receiving reports of injured officers experiencing troubles with their medical claims, including that of her own husband.
Medically retired Lubbock police officer Jacob Flores has been a continuous voice, sharing his story of claim denials and numerous surgeries following an injury he suffered when chasing a suspect in a child abduction case. Saying he had to fight for information on his claims, he added that the ombudsman will help ease a major burden so that those injured can focus on recovery.
The bill reads, “An employer that employs first responders or supervises volunteer first responders shall notify the first responders of the first responder liaison in the manner prescribed by the office.” Under the bill, the ombudsman must meet specific qualifications including training and education requirements.
The bill passed alongside HB 1689, which aims to hold government agencies that provide or accept workers’ compensation accountable by imposing sanctions and administrative penalties.
“HB 1689 and 2082 were written with the help of police, fireman, their families, and their advocates to ensure our state agencies operate efficiently and cooperatively,” Burrows said. He also thanked the bills’ joint authors, which included State Rep. John Frullo, R-Lubbock.
HB 2082 passed the House with a vote of 133-7, while HB 1689 passed 147-0. Both will now be sent to the Senate for consideration.