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FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont; and Erica E. Canales and her husband, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. The Speaker of the House, who is one of the three most powerful offices in the Texas Legislature, was in Edinburg on Thursday, December 16, 2021 to meet with the Canales, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and other elected city and county leaders.

FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont; and Erica E. Canales and her husband, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. The Speaker of the House, who is one of the three most powerful offices in the Texas Legislature, was in Edinburg on Thursday, December 16, 2021 to meet with the Canales, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, and other elected city and county leaders.

Photograph By ALEX RÍOS

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CLEAT, the largest police labor organization in Texas, presents Rep. Canales with leadership award for his work on behalf of law enforcement and endorses him for reelection

By DAVID A. DÍAZ
[email protected]

Although he faces no opposition this year for election to a sixth two-year term, his efforts on behalf of law enforcement and protecting citizens from criminals has drawn praise for Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, from CLEAT, which is the largest police labor organizations in Texas.

Canales, who serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation, recently was presented the Law Enforcement Leadership Award, as well as the endorsement, from the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, CLEAT.

In addition, Canales has been endorsed for reelection by the organization, which is an independent labor organization representing 27,000-plus members statewide in more than 800 law enforcement agencies and represents more than 100 local law enforcement associations.

“I am grateful for the recognition and support of CLEAT, whose leadership and members are very influential in the introduction and passage of major state laws and state policies which benefit law enforcement in Texas and the citizens they are sworn to protect,” said Canales.

CLEAT does not seek or accept any local, state or federal grants and is solely funded by its members.

According to its Facebook, CLEAT officials stated that the organization appreciated Canales’ efforts throughout his legislative career, including during the most recent legislation – the 87th Texas Legislature, which took place from early January 2021 through May 2021 – “to get Senate Bill 22 and other law enforcement bills to the finish line. Rep. Canales and his staff have gone above and beyond for years and have worked with us on every detail to pass good legislation.”

Canales was a Joint Sponsor of Senate Bill 22, which makes it easier for key law enforcement, public safety, and emergency medical services professionals who die, become disabled, or become sick from contracting COVID-19, to be protected, as well as their spouses.

In the Texas House of Representatives, a Joint Sponsor is a member authorized by the chair of the committee reporting a Senate bill or resolution to join in the sponsorship of the measure.

Up to four joint sponsors may be designated per measure.

https://tlc.texas.gov/glossary#sponsor

In its public report on the group’s major legislative issues, CLEAT’s state legislative team provided background on Senate Bill 22, the hurdles they and their members faced, and how their efforts finally paid off.

That legislative background follows:

COVID-19 Presumption (Senate Bill 22)

Our biggest issue during this session was COVID-19 and enacting a line of duty presumption for those who had contracted this terrible disease.

Over 100 peace officers and corrections officers have died due to COVID, and it is clear that these officers contracted this disease at work. But workers compensation insurance companies have consistently denied claims and left survivors without benefits.

When COVID-19 hit Texas, officers were unable to follow the “stay at home” orders issued by the governor and local officials. Officers had to continue reporting to work, responding to calls, and safeguarding those confined in county jails and prisons.

It soon became evident that there was not enough PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for the officers in Texas. Most of the PPE was diverted to health care workers.

CLEAT realized the problem and spent close to $500,000 from our emergency/disaster funds to purchase PPE and personally deliver it to officers at over 300 agencies across Texas.

In March of 2020, CLEAT was the first to call on Governor (Greg) Abbott to issue an executive order declaring a presumption for officers contracting COVID and provide that it was a line of duty illness.

That order never came, and the only option was to seek relief from the legislature this session (2021) by passing a presumption bill. Without a presumption, employees have to prove they contracted the disease at work which is very hard to do.

With a presumption in place, the burden then shifts to the workers compensation insurance carrier.

Presumption ensures that workers compensation insurance carriers would have to prove the employee did not contract the disease at work.

During the interim (when the Texas Legislature is not meeting in Austin), CLEAT contacted many legislators and obtained bi-partisan support for a COVID presumption bill.

Lawmakers generated a number of letters to Governor Abbott at CLEAT’s request about the need for the COVID presumption. When the session began, at least five bills were filed in the Texas House and two in the Texas Senate.

It was clear upfront that the cities, counties, and worker’s compensation insurance companies were going to work very hard to defeat a COVID presumption bill, or at the very least water it down so that the presumption would be very hard to claim.

We were diligent throughout the process to protect the families who have suffered and ensure the best bill possible would pass. Senate Bill 22 by Sen. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) and House Bill 541 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) began to make their way through the process.

Both bills were very different and, as drafted, had many provisions that needed apparent fixes.

The bills were changed a number of times throughout the process.

CLEAT was involved every step of the way. We were able to fix problems with language at every turn and were vocal about all of our concerns. When the bill was hammered out in a conference committee, those concerns were addressed.

And in the final weekend of the session, both houses adopted the conference committee report and sent the bill to the governor.

A number of the issues that we worked to address were provisions:

• To ensure that all detention officers were covered.
• That those who had not already filed a claim would not be hampered by expired deadlines and could file a claim after the law takes effect.
• That persons who had died from COVID but had not taken an FDA-approved test before passing away could still be covered based on the physician’s diagnoses, and ensuring that a number of other roadblocks to the presumption were removed from the bill.

In addition to the CLEAT legislative report, the Senate Bill Analysis of the bill as signed into law by the governor provides the following key notes:

• Senate Bill 22 amends the Government Code to prescribe the conditions under which a detention officer, custodial officer, firefighter, peace officer, or emergency medical technician who suffers from SARS?CoV?2 or COVID?19 that results in death or total or partial disability is presumed to have contracted the virus or disease during the course and scope of the individual’s employment for purposes of benefits or compensation that the individual or their spouse may be entitled to receive.

• This presumption is rebuttable in the same manner as other presumptions relating to diseases or illnesses suffered by public safety employees, but a rebuttal may not be based solely on evidence relating to the risk of exposure to SARS?CoV?2 or COVID?19 of a person with whom a qualified individual resides.

• Senate Bill 22 amends the Labor Code to authorize an injured employee who is subject to the presumption regarding SARS?CoV?2 or COVID?19 and whose claim for workers’ compensation benefits is determined to be compensable by an insurance carrier or the workers’ compensation division to request reimbursement for health care paid by the employee, including copayments and partial payments, by submitting to the carrier a written request and documentation showing the amounts paid to the health care provider.

• The bill provides a deadline by which the carrier must provide reimbursement or deny the request and authorizes an employee whose request is denied to seek medical dispute resolution. The bill establishes procedures for the reprocessing of a claim for benefits related to SARS?CoV?2 or COVID?19 that was denied before the bill’s effective date. The bill’s provisions expire September 1, 2023.

The House Research Organization, which is the nonpartisan research arm of the Texas House of Representatives, provided some of the pros and cons of Senate Bill 22 during its Daily Floor Report, which includes analyses of all legislation, except local and consent bills, scheduled for floor debate on the daily House calendar. Each bill analysis consists of a digest of the bill’s provisions, background, arguments for and against the bill, and additional pertinent information.

The House Research Organization’s findings included:

Supporters of Senate Bill 22 Say:

Senate 22 would support first responders and public safety employees by establishing COVID-19 as a presumptive illness for workers’ compensation and other benefits for detention officers, corrections employees, firefighters, peace officers, and EMTs.

During the pandemic, many people were able to work from home to avoid exposure, but these employees did not have that option and had to encounter the risk of exposure to perform their duties and protect the people of Texas.

Many have faced issues with obtaining workers’ compensation due to injury or illness in the past, so the bill would simplify the process by adding COVID-19 as presumptive. Senate 22 would be accurately tailored to just those employees who had contracted COVID-19 in an area of disaster and while on the job by providing that the employee had to have tested positive using an FDA-approved test no more than two weeks after being on duty.

The bill also would include certain protections for the employer and provide for rebuttal. The bill would be retroactive to ensure that employees who had claims denied in the past year could reapply for workers’ compensation within six months after the bill’s effective date.

While workers’ compensation payments create significant costs, the Legislature could continue to work this session on how federal funds could be used to fill this need. Regardless of the cost, it is critical that the state provide care and compensation for first responders who contracted COVID-19 on the job.

The COVID-19 presumption for workers’ compensation under the bill also could apply to line of duty death benefits, even if not explicitly stated in statute.

The bill would qualify specific employees for the presumption based on input from interested stakeholders and with due consideration of which public safety employees lacked control over their environments and had to be exposed to disease within the scope of their jobs.

Not every individual can be covered by the presumption, but the bill would include those who risked their health to provide necessary public safety services.

Opponents of Senate Bill 22 Say:

Senate Bill 22 would negatively impact local governments by creating a presumption that public safety employees contracted COVID-19 on the job for the purpose of worker’s compensation and other benefits. This could come at a cost, especially to small or rural regions, and such costs would have to be borne by taxpayers.

While the state should recognize the first responders who performed their duties during the pandemic, the Legislature instead could create a special benefit fund, with state or federal dollars, to directly pay benefits without requiring first responders to apply for benefits through the complicated system of worker’s compensation.

The complete text of the House Research Organization’s Daily Floor Report on Senate Bill 22 is available online at:

https://hro.house.texas.gov/pdf/ba87r/sb0022.pdf#navpanes=0

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