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Cockayne testifies against bill that would expand help for first responders with PTSD

Bristol Mayor Kenneth Cockayne

Bristol Mayor Kenneth Cockayne

Bristol Mayor Ken Cockayne spoke at the Capital this week in opposition to Bill 763 “An Act Concerning Workers’ Compensation Coverage for Police Officers, Firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

Here is what Cockayne said in its entirety or you can watch the video.

“As the Mayor of Bristol I am grateful for the work that our first responders perform on a daily basis. They are an integral part of our community.   However, I have serious concerns that this would be another costly unfunded mandate on towns and cities.

If the bill were to be enacted, the financial implications would likely be considerable.  Based on previous reports from legislation proposed in years past, these claims could reach over $1 million for the duration of the claim.  To date, there remains no funding mechanism that would support towns and cities should a claim be filed under this proposal.  As a result, our city – and every other municipality throughout Connecticut – would be forced to set aside funds to build a foundation for any potential claim.  This bill runs counter to the challenges we are all currently facing with already struggling budgets.  

Since becoming mayor, I have been an advocate with other municipal leaders to reduce unfunded state mandates on municipalities.  Local leaders strive to make sound financial decisions by creating efficiencies and often making difficult decisions.  If enacted, this proposal would place a strain on the backs of local property taxpayers with limited control from local leaders.

Again, local officials value the service of first responders. We have invested in both their physical and mental health.  We consider it our job to do so, not the state’s; and we take that job seriously.  Municipal employees have a host of benefits and programs to assist them during difficult times, including health insurance, disability leave and Employee Assistance Programs. These are programs that we fund; and which have been negotiated through our labor agreements with our first responders. I am confident that we have sufficient existing resources to provide needed support for our first responders without the addition of the “one size fits all” approach proposed with this bill.

Particularly concerning is the broad and vague language of this bill that makes it ripe for abuse.  The very nature of first responder work exposes these men and women to death on a frequent basis.  Should this bill pass, each death including its aftermath is a potential exposure for large monetary losses to the municipality where it occurs.  Once again, the taxpayers lose.

CCM acknowledges and values the important role public safety personnel have in our communities. We are grateful for their commitment to protect and serve and for the risks they assume on behalf of Connecticut’s residents. What is at question is whether local property taxpayers – and their municipal budgets – should be mandated to provide special mental stress benefits from “witnessing” or its “aftermath” – without any financial assistance from the State.

The General Assembly has, and should continue to be wise to take no action on this proposed new state mandate.  The current fiscal climate should prompt relief from existing state mandates, and all new proposed mandates – regardless of merit – be opposed.”

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