SC House passes bill expanding workers’ comp benefits for police

abeam@thestate.comJanuary 15, 2014 

— S.C. police officers who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder after shooting someone would be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits under a bill the state House of Representatives passed Wednesday.

The bill was inspired by Brandon Bentley, a Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department deputy who shot and killed a man on a call in 2009. Bentley never worked again after the shooting, attempting suicide at least twice, he said.

The state Supreme Court ruled Bentley was not eligible for workers’ compensation because state law says benefits only are available if the event that leads to an injury was “extraordinary and unusual.” The court ruled that, for a police officer, shooting someone was part of the job.

State Rep. Tommy Pope, R-York, proposed a bill last year that would exempt law enforcement officers from the “extraordinary and unusual” standard if the officer was involved in “the use of deadly force in the line of duty.”

“Quit giving them awards and quit waving at them in the (Legislature’s) balcony, and do some small thing to help them,” Pope said on the House floor Wednesday, urging his colleagues to pass the bill, which they did, 80-32.

Critics, including state Rep. Garry Smith, R-Greenville, said workers’ compensation laws cover mental illnesses as long as they are associated with some type of physical injury. He said expanding the law to include mental injuries not associated with an injury could expand benefits beyond law enforcement officers.

“You have a lot of people that, for whatever reason, they will have stressful jobs, and this could really get out of hand,” he said.

Representatives have to pass the bill one more time, a routine vote that most likely will happen Thursday. Then, the bill goes to the state Senate.

Reach Beam at (803) 386-7038.

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