Gov. Doug Burgum today signed House Bill 1279 to expand workers’ compensation coverage for full-time firefighters and law enforcement officers, providing greater support and helping to address the state’s workforce shortage by making North Dakota more attractive for those considering relocating from other states.
Currently, a full-time firefighter or law enforcement officer who is injured must have worked continuously for five years in North Dakota before it is presumed that their injury is a result of their work. Previous service in another state or another profession does not count toward meeting the five-year requirement.
House Bill 1279 still require five years of service, but it counts the years of service from other states. It also adds a new section that provides workers’ compensation coverage for heart attacks, strokes, vascular rupture or other similar cardiac events that occur within 48 hours after a full-time firefighter or law enforcement officer engages in a strenuous activity related to their job – regardless of how long the individual has served in North Dakota.
“In North Dakota, we truly mean it when we say that we back the blue,’” said Burgum, who called for the legislation in his State of the State address last month and held a bill signing ceremony today at the Capitol. “House Bill 1279 lets every full-time firefighter and law enforcement officer in North Dakota – and every prospective officer and firefighter from across the country – know that if you serve in North Dakota, from the first day on the job we will stand with you, your family and all of your brothers and sisters in uniform. We’re grateful to the Legislature for its decisive action on this bill, which will provide the coverage these officers and firefighters deserve while helping to address our workforce challenges and ensure our police and fire departments are fully staffed to keep the public safe.”
The bipartisan bill, which passed both chambers unanimously, has a retroactive clause to cover the case of West Fargo Police Officer Tim Brown and two firefighters who were previously denied coverage due to the length-of-service requirement.
“The signing of this bill is historic,” said Art Thompson, director of North Dakota Workforce Safety & Insurance, the state’s worker’s compensation agency. “Currently 30 states of 52 jurisdictions in the United States provide presumption clause coverage for full-time law enforcement and firefighters – all require a years-of-service trigger ranging from 2 years to 12 years. North Dakota will now be the only state in the country to provide this level of coverage.”
House Bill 1279 was introduced by Rep. Shannon Roers Jones of Fargo and co-sponsored by Reps. Pat Heinert of Bismarck, Jim Jonas of West Fargo, Scott Louser of Minot, Austen Schauer of West Fargo and Paul Thomas of Velva, and Sens. Jeff Barta of Grand Forks, Diane Larson of Bismarck and Judy Lee of West Fargo.
“It can’t be overstated how much collaboration went into getting this bill passed in as short amount of time as we did,” Roers Jones said, noting it took about two weeks to get the bill through the Legislature from start to finish. “And that just underlies the commitment with all of the legislators, all of the professionals who worked on this.”
“Thanks to everyone who has been involved with this, and I think we’re all very happy to have Officer Brown with us today,” Lee said.
Also attending today’s bill signing ceremony were Lt. Gov. Tammy Miller, Officer Brown, West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis, West Fargo Police Chief Denis Otterness, West Fargo Fire Chief Dan Fuller, Stephanie Dassinger Engebretson from the Chiefs of Police Association of North Dakota, Donnell Preskey from the North Dakota County Sheriff’s and Deputies Association, and representatives from other law enforcement agencies and fire departments, including those in the Bismarck-Mandan area.
“At the end of the day, it’s about everybody behind me here, all the police officers, firefighters that do go out every day to put their life in jeopardy to serve everybody else, and certainly Officer Brown and the struggle that his family has been through. We have been beside them the entire time,” Otterness said. “Just a heartfelt thanks to everybody that really put this on the front burner and got things done.”
Video of the bill signing ceremony can be found on the governor’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/GovernorDougBurgum/.