Senate Bill 22 seeks to designate COVID-19 as a presumptive illness for law enforcement officers and first responders in order to grant access to compensation benefits and health coverage.
By establishing COVID-19 as a “presumptive illness,” the legislation presumes that officers contracted the disease in the line of duty, thus making them eligible for compensation.
State Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) introduced the bill to the House floor. He said the bill “establishes a presumption that COVID-19 was contracted in line of duty for certain public safety employees.”
According to KXAN, the legislation successfully passed the House with several amendments by a 139-6 vote. The amendments included changes as to who qualifies as a custodial officer, as well as an amendment to allow COVID-19 diagnostic tests that may be “FDA recommended” but not approved. Another amendment was added to terminate the legislation on Sept. 1, 2023, “so that if we learn anything new, for between now next session that we can take care of that next session,” Patterson said.
The bill is headed back to the Senate for approval of the revisions made by the House, but the Senate has not yet concurred. It requires Senate approval before being able to move to the governor’s desk. The last day of the legislative session is May 31.
Law enforcement advocates who fought for more than a year to acquire COVID-19 protections are in support of the bill that follows on the heels of Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order in the spring that covered first responders’ medical bills.
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) said the bill was necessary. “As many mistakes as we could make in Texas, we made them,” CLEAT’s executive director Charley Wilkison said, describing the difficulties that state leaders had in acquiring personal protective equipment and vaccines for law enforcement.
Wilkison also noted the importance of the bill for supporting distressed families of law enforcement COVID casualties. He said, “That brings us to this is the only remedy. 100 families have lost their loved ones, so they have no way to claim that it was an in line-of-duty death, unless we pass this legislation right here.”
Opponents of the bill expressed concerns about the limited evidence offered in presumptive illness cases.