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Understanding Texas Presumptive Law for First Responders

Daniel is a nonprofit Executive Director, Texas First Responder, and has participated in three Texas Legislative Sessions.

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The Texas Presumptive Law protects first responders from local governments following on-the-job injuries.

The law has been refined over multiple legislative sessions and looks to be addressed again in light of COVID-19.

This article examines the history and intent of Texas Government Code 607, the first responder presumptive law, and summarizes one of the most important pieces of first responder legislation.

What Is Texas Government Code 607?

Texas Government Code 607 establishes benefits and protections for job-related injuries experienced by first responders.

Texas Government Code 607 was originally established in 1993 to cover contagious diseases. The law dealt with reimbursement, physician choice, and immunizations.

It's now expanded into three subsections covering different personnel and areas of interest:

  1. Subchapter A: Contagious Diseases
  2. Subchapter B: Diseases or Illnesses Suffered by Firefighters, Peace Officers, and Emergency Medical Technicians
  3. Subchapter C: Other Diseases or Illnesses Suffered by Firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians

Subchapter B establishes "Presumptive Law" for Texas first responders.

Unfortunately, state legislators have to frequently intervene to protect first responders from loop holes used by local governments.

The presumptive law has been written and amended by legislators in 2005, 2015, and 2019.

What Is Presumptive Law?

The intent of presumptive law is that the first responder is presumed to have contracted an injury or illness throughout their course of employment.

The purpose of presumptive law is to shift the burden of proof from the first responder to the employer. This means that the illness or injury is job related until the employer proves otherwise.

Prior to Subchapter B, the first responder had the burden to prove that their injury was job related. This became harsh when dealing with illnesses like cancer.

Employers exploited this disadvantage by automatically denying claims and forcing the first responder to legally fight for every benefit. The tactic intended to make it financially painful for the first responder to pursue their claim.

In instance of severe illness, employers found they could leverage sick employees into lesser settlements by withholding financial benefits.

This is why legislators created Subchapter B in 2005, and have continued refining it to protect first responders.

"Because of the nature of their work, determining the origin of disease exposure or injury can be impossible to prove, yet the burden of proof currently lies with the employee.

This bill appropriately would create a presumption in favor of the employee for diseases, such as certain cancers and respiratory illnesses, which typically are associated with the performance of emergency personnel duties."

— House Research Organization

Who Is Covered by Texas Presumptive Law?

Texas Government Code 607, Subchapter B, covers specific first responders employed by a political subdivision. This description requires two categories to be defined.

The first category defines the first responders. The three listed first responders are:

  1. Peace Officers
  2. Fire Fighters
  3. Emergency Medical Technicians

Who:

  • Hold standard certifications or position requirements as defined by the law
  • and have been employed for five or more years in a first responder role

The second category defines employment by a political subdivision.

A political subdivision, per Texas Local Government Code, means employment by a:

  1. County
  2. Municipality
  3. Special District (ex: Hospital District or Emergency Services District)
  4. School District
  5. Junior College District
  6. Housing Authority

In common scenarios, any peace officer, fire fighter, or emergency medical technician employed by a city, county, or ESD is covered under presumptive law.

First responders employed by other listed political subdivisions should check to confirm their coverage.

Two notable exclusions are detention officers and county jailers, who are included in Subchapter A's definition of public safety employee.

Neither of these positions are covered under Subchapter B.

Another notable exclusion are emergency medical technicians employed by nonprofit or private employers contracted by political subdivisions. This can be exceptionally confusing for employees of nonprofit employers using their city or county's namesake.

The key takeaway is that presumptive law covers most publicly employed first responders. However, especially during COVID-19, it's important to note that many first responders are not protected because they do not fit the two part definition.

What Is Covered by Texas Presumptive Law?

Texas presumptive law covers four subsections of injury and illness:

  1. Immunizations; Smallpox
  2. Tuberculosis or Other Respiratory Illness
  3. Cancer
  4. Acute Myocardial Infarction or Stroke

The specifics of each subsection are too large for an article summarizing Subchapter B. However, a general overview can be provided with these four highlights:

  • If a first responder experiences death or disability from an immunization provided by the employer, they are entitled to benefits.
  • If a first responder experiences death or disability from a job-related respiratory illness, they are entitled to benefits.
  • If a firefighter or EMT develops job-related cancer, they are entitled to benefits.
  • If a first responder experiences death or disability from an on-duty heart attack or stroke, they are entitled to benefits.

Each injury or illness is presumed to have occurred on the job unless evidence is provided that off duty activities contributed to their occurrence.

Texas Gov Code 607 and Firefighter Cancer

What Is the Future of Presumptive Law?

The future of Texas Presumptive Law deals with COVID-19.

Multiple bills have been filed for the 87th Legislative Session that would make COVID-19 presumptive for Texas first responders. Although the law already covers COVID-19 as a respiratory illness, local governments are denying claims due to COVID-19 not being specifically mentioned.

The most probable outcome, if passed, would be the inclusion of language covering diseases causing disaster declarations. This would not only address COVID-19 but also issues created by future pandemics.

The 87th Texas Legislative Session begins January 12, 2021.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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