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Legislative Memo

BILL:

A.8844 (Rules-Silver)

Support

SUBJECT:

Volunteer Rescue Workers

 

DATE:

June 17, 2003

 

On September 11, 2001 the United States suffered a terrible loss of human life at the hands of those who sought to destroy the symbols of the American way of life. They were not successful. In the aftermath, the citizenry of the great State of New York pulled together. We were proud to witness countless acts of selflessness and boundless acts of heroism.

We can never repay those workers' for the sacrifices that they have endured during the rescue, recovery and clean up efforts at ground zero. However, The Business Council of New York State, Inc. does not believe that compensation to volunteers should be done within the workers' compensation system.

New York's workers' compensation system is designed exclusively for employees, not volunteers. The volunteer rescue workers should not be legislatively deemed employees in order to receive workers' compensation. If New York State wishes to set public policy and compensate the volunteer rescue workers it should do so outside of workers' compensation law. The Workers' Compensation Board should not be involved in the process of awarding volunteer rescue worker benefits.

This legislation states that the benefits will be paid for from federal funds. However, the legislation lacks clarity on what happens when those funds run out. Will only those rescue workers who are fortunate to receive benefits while the funds exist be compensated or will the uninsured employers fund be used to pay for benefits. Is the true intent of this legislation to have the uninsured employers fund, which is paid for by assessments placed on businesses and carriers, foot the bill when the federal funds are exhausted?

Under the provisions of this bill, travel injuries are compensable. This is in conflict with existing workers' compensation law.

Current workers' compensation law provides that under certain circumstances, children and spouses are eligible for the statutorily prescribed death benefit. Only when there is no spouse or children, does the workers' compensation law allow other eligible family members such as parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters, who can show dependency on the victim, to be eligible for benefits. This legislation would allow domestic partners to become the equivalent of a spouse and therefore, eligible for death benefits. Giving domestic partners the same status as a spouse, has the potential to reduce the death benefits to eligible children and would make those dependent relatives ineligible for benefits. This legislation is retroactive and therefore, may delay benefits until the correct beneficiary can be determined.

For the reasons mentioned, The Business Council of New York State, Inc. opposes this legislation and urges its defeat.