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Idaho lawmakers leave out coroners from first responders psychological trauma workers' comp bill

Lawmakers originally passed the law 2019; however, it is set to expire on July 1. House Bill 18 would make the law permanent.

BOISE, Idaho — House Bill 18 (HB18) passed the Idaho house with unanimous support Tuesday.

The bill aims to remove the sunset clause from Idaho Code 72-451. The sunset clause would enforce a July 1 expiration date on Idaho first responders psychological trauma workers compensation coverage.

"We would have ongoing coverage for these post-traumatic stress injuries for our first responders who encounter terrible and unimaginable things in their line of work," bill sponsor Democratic House Leader Rep. Ilana Rubel said on the house floor.

The bill passed the house behind a 69-0-1 vote. The only debate against the bill came from outside statehouse walls.

Former Ada County Coroner Dotti Owens believes the bill doesn't go far enough.

"It's unfortunate that coroners and forensic pathologists and administration in that office don't get to utilize any of those services," Owens said. "I had a family member - the mom - call me on the anniversary of her daughter’s death every single July for 5 years. Think about that. These family members are calling for support. 'I need to just talk about what you saw again. I need to talk about the case again. Can you go through the photos with me again?'"

Owens talked to lawmakers regarding the original legislation in 2019; lawmakers told Owens coroners would be added in the following years.

"Nothing. Crickets," Owens said.

Rep. Rubel told KTVB she agrees with Owens concerns; however, adding more groups to HB18 coverage would lessen the likelihood the bill passes and becomes law.

"The first responders wanted to keep their bill clean. Just discretely focused on their issue so that they don’t take any chances it goes awry before we start adding other groups," Rep. Rubel said.

Stress and trauma from working as a medical examiner leads to high turnover, according to Owens. In her experience, investigators left the industry after 5-7 years.

"You lose good deputies and good employees. It's because of the trauma and everything you see and deal with every single day. There is no help for them. There is no help for coroners, at all," Owens said. "It really devalues what we do in the field. So, why don't they get the benefits of the mental health part?"

Rep. Rubel told KTVB she is interested in eventually adding coroners - and their staff - to the psychological trauma workers compensation coverage. That could be through a future amendment or the addition of a separate law.

"I do think it makes sense to include [coroners] in this coverage," Rep. Rubel said.

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