News Article Details

Florida CFO to push legislation for first responders

The Herald-Tribune - 1/6/2018

Jan. 05--While Florida's firefighters and other first responders are hailed as heroes, they often cannot get benefits to pay for treatment of mental stress injuries like post-traumatic stress disorder.

The state's workers' compensation system does not cover PTSD unless it also includes a physical injury, but Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is vowing to change that.

Patronis, who also is the state fire marshal, said Friday that his top priority in the upcoming legislative session is to increase benefits for firefighters and other first responders who are diagnosed with work-related PTSD or cancer. He cited a 2015 study by Florida State University that found more than 15 percent of firefighters make at least one suicide attempt during their time in the fire service.

"These men and women see horrific issues and images that can never be erased," Patronis said during a visit to the Herald-Tribune. "The dark side to this is how the suicide rate among first responders is abnormally high. We want to be able to get a behavior treatment regimen as part of a covered treatment."

Patronis said he learned about the issue through Megan Vila of Tampa, whose brother Stephen LaDue, a 29-year city of Tampa firefighter, killed himself last year. LaDue had PTSD, took several months off of work to deal with it, but then had to repay the city for that time off after his workers' comp claim was denied.

Bills have been filed in both the House and Senate to add PTSD coverage to workers' comp, and Patronis said he hopes the legislation has a good chance of passing.

Patronis also is pushing legislation that would stop credit reporting agencies from charging fees of up to $10 to freeze credit reports. Consumers who are victims of data breaches often need to put holds on their reports so scammers can't access new credit in their names. He said he had first-hand experience with the problem when three of his credit cards were breached in the same week.

"We're not going to add insult to injury," he said. "It wasn't the Floridians' fault that their credit was violated. They shouldn't have to pay a penalty to save their credit rating."

Patronis, 45, was appointed to the Cabinet-level position last June after the resignation of Jeff Atwater. Patronis served in the Florida House from 2006 through 2014 and also has sat on the Public Service Commission and the Constitution Revision Committee. He plans to run this year for a four-year term as CFO.

The North Florida native is a partner in the family-owned seafood restaurant Captain Anderson's, which marked its 50th anniversary last year. He calls state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, one of his mentors.

Under the Department of Financial Services, he oversees insurance consumer services, which handled nearly 118,000 calls and recovered $14.3 million for consumers in the recent fiscal year. The department's unclaimed property bureau returned $113.5 million in cash, jewelry and other assets to 236,749 owners and heirs.

In the new legislative session, which begins Tuesday, Patronis also plans to push for a package he said will make it easier for military veterans to transition to civilian jobs. Fees and training requirements could be waived, for example, for military fire service vets who want to continue as firefighters in the state.

He says that Florida "dodged a bullet" when Hurricane Irma blasted the state in September. While 13 million statewide lost power, most were back up within a week, he said, although some Sarasota-Manatee residents went without electricity for nearly two weeks.

But while Irma hit more than 40 counties in Florida, only 1,700 damaged properties were covered by FEMA flood insurance, leaving many homeowners with uncovered flood damage.

"The most painful lesson learned is: Buy flood insurance," Patronis said. "A storm can cause catastrophic damage that your current insurance policy may not give you the peace of mind you need."

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(c)2018 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla.

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