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Bill Would Expand Montana Workers’ Compensation

Lawmakers stand at their desks, which are bent in an arc facing a raised dais offset by another arc of desks. Hands over hearts. The room has the feel of observing a ceremony in community.
Matt Volz
Kaiser Health News
The Montana House of Representatives convenes its floor session on Jan. 29 in Helena, Montana. Lawmakers across the U.S. this year face the dilemma of having to tighten budgets for the COVID-crippled economy while planning for an expected spike in demand for health services because of the pandemic.

HELENA — Lawmakers on the House Business and Labor Committee heard testimony Wednesday on several bills changing workers’ compensation, including one that would allow essential workers to receive benefits if they contract COVID-19.

Rep. Andrea Olsen, D-Missoula, sponsored House Bill 550.

“May we honor all those who stepped up and cared for all of us during the pandemic, despite the risks to their personal health and safety,” Olsen said.

Ole Hedstrom spoke in support of the bill on behalf of the Montana State Council of Professional Firefighters, the union that represents firefighters.

“This bill provides necessary protection for not only my membership, but every other essential worker in the state of Montana,” Hedstrom said.

Opponents said the bill was too broad. Alan Olson spoke on behalf of the Montana Petroleum Association.

“Trying to establish where the employee got the virus, I think it’s impossible,” Olson said

Olson was joined by five other opponents representing industry and insurance companies, including the Montana State Fund, the public workers’ comp insurance agency.

Under the bill, employers could refuse benefits if there is “clear and convincing evidence” the employee contracted the disease outside of work.

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.

James Bradley
UM Legislative News Service