BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                    AB 2493


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          Date of Hearing:  April 20, 2016


                           ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON INSURANCE


                                   Tom Daly, Chair


          AB 2493  
          (Atkins) - As Introduced February 19, 2016


          SUBJECT:  Firefighters:  disability


          SUMMARY:  Authorizes enhanced temporary disability benefits  
          (commonly referred to as "4850 time") for rank and file and  
          supervisory firefighters employed by the California Department  
          of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFIRE).  Specifically, this  
          bill:  


          1)Grants firefighter employees of CalFIRE, whether they are rank  
            and file or supervisory employees, the right to a leave of  
            absence for up to one year, in lieu of other disability  
            benefits provided by the Labor Code, with full pay in the  
            event of a disabling injury that arises out of, or occurs in  
            the course of, employment.


          2)Provides that the benefit is available to the employee  
            regardless of whether the firefighter is assigned to work in  
            fire prevention, fire suppression, or other capacity.


          EXISTING LAW:  










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          1)Provides for a comprehensive system of employer-paid benefits  
            to be provided to employees who suffer illness or injury that  
            arises out of, or in the course of, employment.

          2)Includes temporary disability benefits (TD) for up to 104  
            weeks if an employee is temporarily unable to work during  
            recuperation from the workplace illness or injury.

          3)Establishes a minimum and a maximum amount that an employee  
            may receive, which is adjusted annually to reflect rising wage  
            levels.  Currently the minimum benefit is $165 per week, and  
            the maximum benefit is $1103.  The benefit is calculated based  
            on 2/3 of an employee's average weekly wages, subject to the  
            maximum cap.

          4)Provides specified public safety officers (most peace officer  
            and firefighter employees of local governments and special  
            districts) with an enhanced temporary disability benefit for  
            up to the first year of temporary disability.  These safety  
            officers receive their full salary (tax free) during the first  
            year of temporary disability.  (Labor Code Section 4850.)

          5)Provides this same enhanced disability benefit to officers of  
            the California Highway Patrol.  Labor Code Section 4800.5.)

          6)Provides this same enhanced benefit to employees of the  
            Department of Justice who are in the "state peace  
            officer/firefighter" classification, whose principal duties  
            involve active law enforcement, and to harbor police employed  
            by the San Francisco Harbor Commission.  (Labor Code Section  
            4800.)

          7)Provides this same benefit to firefighters employed by the  
            University of California fire department, whose primary duties  
            consist of active firefighting and prevention services, and  
            law enforcement officers of the University of California  
            Police Department, whose primary duties consist of active law  
            enforcement. (Labor Code Sections 4804.1 and 4806.)









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          8)Provides, for employees of the California State University  
            Police Department whose principal duties consist of active law  
            enforcement, an enhanced industrial disability leave for up to  
            one year in an amount equal to his or her "net take home  
            salary," defined as the salary received after state and  
            federal income taxes, and employee retirement contributions,  
            have been deducted.  (Labor Code Section 4816.)

          FISCAL EFFECT:  Undetermined increased workers' compensation  
          costs to the State of California.


          COMMENTS:  


           1)Purpose  .  The purpose of the bill is to treat CalFIRE  
            firefighters fairly by providing them with benefits similar to  
            the benefits available to most other firefighters in  
            California.  According to the author, "A firefighter is a  
            firefighter, regardless of what entity issues their badge."   
            The risk factors faced by CalFIRE firefighters are the same as  
            the firefighters employed by other agencies, and the benefits  
            available to CalFIRE firefighters ought to be the same.


           2)Temporary disability benefits  .  The goal of TD is to  
            approximate an employee's take home pay during the period  
            after injury when the employee is temporarily unable to work.  
            This goal is implemented by basing the weekly TD benefit on  
            2/3 of the employee's average weekly wages.  Because there is  
            a cap, employees who make more than approximately $1600 per  
            week do not reach this 2/3 goal, but because the benefit is  
            tax free, most employees receive an adequate TD benefit while  
            they are recovering.


           3)Special public safety benefits  .  Most public safety officers  
            (peace officer, sheriff, and firefighter employees generally)  
            receive certain special workers' compensation benefits that  








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            other employees do not receive.  Most notably, this class of  
            employee has the benefit of a range of "presumptions" that  
            certain illnesses or injuries are automatically deemed to be  
            work related.  All other employees are required to prove that  
            their condition is work related.  The second significant  
            special workers' compensation benefit is granted by Labor Code  
            Sections 4800 through 4850 - commonly referred to as "4850  
            time" - and this law grants defined employees up to one year  
            of full salary in lieu of the regular method for calculating  
            TD benefits.  


           4)Tax advantages  .  Because these benefits are paid due to  
            disability, they are not subject to either state or federal  
            taxes.  This applies to regular TD benefits, and to 4800-4850  
            benefits.  Because of the tax-free status of this benefit, a  
            public safety officer takes home substantially more in weekly  
            benefits than they normally earn while working - i.e., normal  
            take home pay plus what would have been paid in taxes.  Public  
            employers have long complained that this creates a  
            disincentive in getting injured public safety officers to  
            return to work, even if they are able, due to the financial  
            loss they would suffer when they return.  


           5)Collective bargaining  ?  If a public agency wants to grant  
            employees certain benefits of employment, it is able to  
            accomplish that goal without need for a statutory change.  In  
            fact, the City of Los Angeles has provided "4850-like"  
            benefits to a range of employees without need of a statute  
            mandating the benefit for those employees.  If it is correct,  
            as the author asserts, that both the City and its employees  
            are in agreement, then the collective bargaining process, and  
            not legislation, may be the better approach to enhancing the  
            benefits of this class of employee.


           6)Scope of bill  .  As noted above, current law with respect to  
            some public safety officers employed by the State of  








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            California does not confer the broadest scope of the leave of  
            absence benefits that many peace officers and firefighters  
            enjoy.  Some statutes require "active" law enforcement or  
            firefighting duties.  One statute limits the amount paid to  
            what the employee was actually taking home in compensation.  
            The bill provides for a full salary leave of absence for all  
            firefighters employed by CalFIRE, regardless of their  
            regularly assigned duties.


           7)Recent legislation  .  In 2013, SB 527 (Block) was signed into  
            law.  SB 527 added lifeguards employed by the City of San  
            Diego to the list of public safety employees entitled to 4850  
            time.  Proponents of that bill argued that the San Diego  
            lifeguards performed duties comparable to Los Angeles County  
            lifeguards, who already have this benefit.



          Last year, AB 1451 (Chavez) sought to provide 4850 benefits to a  
            class of lifeguards employed by the City of Oceanside, arguing  
            that other lifeguards employed by San Diego and Los Angeles  
            who performed comparable duties already receive this benefit.   
            Governor Brown vetoed AB 1451.  The veto message stated:

          "This bill adds full-time lifeguards employed by the City of  
            Oceanside to the list of employees who are entitled up to one  
            year of leave, paid at full salary without payroll tax  
            deductions, if they suffer an illness or injury that arises  
            out of their job duties.

          Recent data indicates public employers' costs related to this  
            disability leave benefit have increased at an alarming rate.   
            These cost figures give me pause to extend this benefit  
            further in state law.  If the City of Oceanside wishes to  
            offer full salary in lieu of temporary disability for one year  
            to their regular full-time lifeguards, they are free to do so  
            by means of the collective bargaining process.  Eligibility  
            for this benefit is best left to the City of Oceanside, not  








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            the state, to determine."
          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:




          Support


          California Professional Firefighters


          California State Firefighters Association


          CalFIRE Local 2881




          Opposition


          None received




          Analysis Prepared by:Mark Rakich / INS. / (916) 319-2086


















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