Session Update: Government Liability Legislation

This post summarizes the status of various government liability bills that MACo either considered or took a position on.

Joint Committee on Workers’ Compensation Benefit and Insurance Oversight MembershipHB 40 / SB 1 would add a self-insured local government representative to the Joint Committee on Workers’ Compensation Benefit and Insurance Oversight.  The duties of the Joint Committee involve examining the condition of workers’ compensation benefit and insurance structure in the State, including the adequacy and appropriateness of all workers’ compensation benefits.  MACo supported the bill, arguing that self-insured county governments have unique concerns and issues, such as the statutory occupational disease presumptions for public safety employees, that are not shared by existing Joint Committee members.  Status:  Representatives for the plaintiffs’ bar sought an amendment to add a plaintiffs’ attorney knowledgeable in local government issues to provide “balance” to the new local government representative.  However, both bills have passed their respective houses without any substantive amendments. MACo Testimony

Workers’ Compensation Dependent Death Benefits:  HB 417 / SB 212 and SB 805 alter the existing workers’ compensation dependent death benefits system.  The bills remove the distinction between a “wholly” and “partially” dependent, set a 12-year cap on benefits subject to certain exceptions, provide benefits for dependents who are not spouses or children, and raise the allowance for funeral benefits.  SB 805, which was introduced at MACo’s request, also contains an “opt-in” provision for counties.  MACo supported SB 805 and supported HB 417 and SB 212 with amendments that would add the “opt-in” provision found in SB 805.  MACo argued that the “opt-in” provision was necessary because of the way the new benefits system would interact with the public safety occupational disease presumptions, potentially imposing an unfunded mandate on certain counties.  Under the “opt-in” provision, dependents of public safety employees subject to a  presumption would remain under the current death benefits system unless a local government decided to cover them under the new system by making a one-time election.  All other county employees are under the new system.  Status:  HB 417 and SB 212 have passed their respective houses with the “opt-in” amendments.  SB 805 was withdrawn as the bill is no longer necessary. MACo Testimony

Termination of Workers’ Compensation Temporary Total Disability BenefitsHB 889 / SB 413 requires an employer to pay compensation for temporary total disability (TTD) to the end of the period during which the covered employee is temporarily totally disabled, as determined by the employee’s treating physician unless the Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) has ordered an earlier termination date.  MACo opposed the bill, arguing that the bill would impose a significant fiscal impact on self-insured local governments and remove the existing ability of an employer to terminate TTD benefits if the employee refuses to submit to an independent medical evaluation, is found to be working for another employer, is not following a doctor’s treatment plan, or is collecting the benefits fraudulently.  Status:  Neither house has taken action on the bill and instead will request that the WCC conduct a review of its appeal process. MACo Testimony

Comparative FaultHB 1129 would codify the existing Maryland common law doctrine of contributory negligence.  The bill was a preemptive response to a request by Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert Bell to have the Judiciary undertake a study of comparative fault and determine whether the standard could be adopted in Maryland via a judicial rule.  MACo did not take a position on the bill as the study has not yet been completed and may determine that the standard cannot be changed via judicial rule but did submit a letter restating its long-standing opposition to the comparative negligence standard.  Status:  The House has not taken any action on HB 1129. MACo Letter

Civil Cases Challenging Constitutionality of Local StatutesSB 363 would provide the State and local governments with notice and a chance to respond when a law is alleged to be unconstitutional in a civil proceeding.  The bill’s provisions replace similar law relating solely to declaratory judgments.  MACo supported the bill with amendments to preserve a local government’s existing right to receive notice and respond in a declaratory judgment action where a local government’s law is being challenged as invalid (which is a different standard than constitutionality).  Status:  Citing concerns with the significant number of notices the Attorney General’s Office would receive if the bill passed, the Senate gave the bill an Unfavorable report. MACo Testimony

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