COVID-19: Lawmaker Testifies on House Bill to Protect First Responders’ Sick Time, Vacation Days

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State Rep. James Arciero testified this week on a bill he filed, House Bill 4611: An Act Relative to Emergency Hazard Health Duty, to assist first responders who are on the frontlines against the Covid-19 pandemic in Massachusetts. The public hearing, one of the first to be conducted electronically, was held before the Joint Committee on Public Safety, chaired by Harold Naughton of Clinton and Senator Michael Moore of Worcester.

“With thousands of cases of Covid-19 in our state, we know that our first responders will be on to serve whenever an individual or family needs assistance due to this outbreak. Unlike most residents of Massachusetts, these dedicated public safety officials will work through the public health crisis up to and until they themselves are exposed. My bill will simply hold them harmless to the results of this pandemic as they fight the virus across the Commonwealth,” said Arciero.

The bill seeks to cover those individuals employed as police, fire personnel, correction officers, dispatchers, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, nursing professionals and all others individuals who serve in a first responder capacity.

Any person in this group who has symptoms of or contracts the Covid-19 virus and is hospitalized, quarantined or required to be self-quarantined because of coming into contact with someone who is infection, shall have their time of incapacity or inability to perform their regular duties considered as regular on-duty work. This change in law would then protect these public safety officials by not requiring them to use their regular sick time, vacation time, personal time or other forms of contractual time-off to cover this period of treatment and incapacity.

“This is important legislative language that we have been working on over the last few weeks to make sure that our first responders do not suffer the double jeopardy of contracting the COVID-19 virus and then being penalized financially.These public servants are on the front lines with our medical community in confronting this pandemic and need the Commonwealth’s support and protection,” said Gerry Flynn, Executive Director of the New England Police Benevolent Association, whose group is leading the effort on this important issue for public safety personnel.

“As the head of a 19-member force, I know that my officers have encountered cases where they are responding to medical emergencies and other situations that pose a risk of exposure to the Covid-19 virus. Ensuring that they will not be penalized for missed time is reassuring, as they respond to calls from the citizens of Littleton,” said Chief Matthew Pinard of the Littleton Police Department.

“The Covid-19 virus has impacted our state and citizens in so many different ways and presented our society with difficult challenges. From social isolation to unemployment, from our vulnerable seniors in nursing care facilities to educating our children at home, we have had to adjust to a new reality during this public health emergency. We will continue to fight this on multiple fronts, and I know our first responders, our police, our firefighters, our EMTs, correction officers and nursing professionals will be leading the charge in the battle. I believe this bill will be a small token in what we will owe these dedicated public servants when the crisis is over,” said Arciero