Minnesota lawmakers set to vote on compensation bill for front lines COVID-19 workers

Tuesday, lawmakers at the Minnesota State Capitol are scheduled to vote on a bill that would offer some help to people working on the front lines against COVID-19 if they do get sick and are out of work.

What the bill would do is give workers compensation to firefighters, law enforcement, EMS and health care workers who get coronavirus while on the job. At the same time, fire departments say they’re doing everything they can to prevent their people from getting sick in the first place.

“In the fire service, we always plan for the worst and hope for the best,” said Chris Parsons, president of the Minnesota Professional Firefighters.”

Parsons says it’s important to have a plan in place to financially protect front line workers. 

“For those of us that are employed and doing this front line work, at least now we have that piece of mind that if we do contract COVID-19, and we have to miss work, that we will not have to exhaust our earned benefits to pay for it,” Parsons said.

Others have signed a Change.org petition agreeing that the bill should be passed. 

According to Parsons, departments are doing what they can to prevent emergency responders from getting sick at all, but with a limited supply of protective equipment, some fire departments, like the one in the city of Stewartville just outside Rochester, are having to make tough decisions about what kinds of calls to go on.

“That was basically due to our PPE supplies running a little low,” said Stewartville City Administator Bill Schimmel.

Without those materials, Schimmel explains, firefighters will now only respond to medical calls in extreme situations, passing off most of those calls to a nearby ambulance service with the goal of keeping firefighters healthy.

“It’s because of this current situation where we gotta protect them as well so they can continue to serve,” Schimmel said.

With the influx of cases likely ahead, those on the front lines say it’s important they have as many hands on deck as possible.

The bill was initially going to be part of the big relief package lawmakers passed late last month, but some businesses were opposed and lawmakers didn’t take it up.

Monday, while the bill did pass through a workers compensation committee, it’s set to be voted on by the House of Representatives at noon Tuesday and the Senate shortly thereafter.