The legislation that would allow a municipal sponsor of a LOSAP to award up to 5 points per month during the current COVID-19 pandemic has been passed by the Assembly and Senate. We now await for the Governor to sign it into law.
You can read more about it at our previous blog post here:
*5/28/2020 UPDATE - The bill was passed by both houses - we now just need the Governor's signature for it to become law*
The bill that would amend the General Municipal Law to address LOSAP points during the COVID-19 pandemic has been amended and appears poised to make progress through the legislature.
The amended bill, A10438A / S8251B, can be downloaded here:
Here is what you need to know about the current version of the bill:
We are thankful that the legislature took the time to consider this bill and include some language that will greatly increase the effectiveness of this legislation.
As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we had some concerns about the previously proposed subparagraph (q). Since that proposed subparagraph has been eliminated, in one sense our concerns are satisfied. That said, we still believe it is time for the firefighter statute to be amended to allow an alternative approach to earning points under the department responses category. Perhaps that can be addressed in a future session.
This bill is on the May 26, 2020 agenda of the Local Government committees of both the Senate and Assembly. Therefore, it seems likely these bills will progress and possibly be passed by both houses in the near future. Of course, even if it passes both houses it would then have to be signed into law by the Governor.
Given the progress these bills have made over the last week, we anticipate it becoming law. This will give local governments a reasonable option to address the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on the ability of volunteer firefighters to earn points in 2020.
Recently, a bill was introduced to address LOSAP points during the COVID-19 pandemic legislatively. You can read more about it HERE.
Despite this new proposed legislation, we thought we'd share an approach that we believe fits into the parameters of the current statute and may offer the relief some departments are looking for.
This approach centers around the definition of a "department response." If a department response is defined to be a call that all active volunteer firefighters are able to attend/respond, this would eliminate many of the calls that certain firefighters are being asked to not attend due to the current COVID-19 restrictions. Therefore, these calls would not count against those firefighters in determining the number of required calls to earn 25 points.
This interpretation could be viewed as a corollary to meetings. The statute provides one point for attendance at any official meeting of the fire company/department. The Office of the State Comptroller has issued a legal opinion that for purposes of this category, a meeting must be a meeting of the entire membership of the fire company, and not a sub-group like a committee or executive board. Using this same logic, if the fire department response protocols indicate that only certain calls are open for the entire membership to respond, then only those calls would be considered "department responses".
This approach is already being utilized in some departments, especially more suburban and urban departments where they handle a lot of automatic alarms. Often, these alarms and designated as a "Chief's Call" or "Signal 8" or a similar title. These calls are typically handled by an officer, or possibly a group of volunteers on a designated stand-by. If additional response from the entire membership is needed, then the call is elevated to a full department response.
Therefore, if a department has 400 calls during the year, but 100 are designated as chief calls, then the number of department responses for LOSAP purposes could be only 300, thereby requiring 30 call responses (10%) to earn 25 points.
The flip-side to this arrangement is what to do with the 100 chief calls. If they are not department responses, those who attend them do not get a response credit, but they certainly could be a point-awarding activity. Again, if we look to the OSC legal opinion about meetings, each of those chief calls could be considered a miscellaneous point. It would be difficult to treat them as any other kind of activity. Another solution would be that if the department did designate certain firefighters as being on stand-by for possibly attending these chief calls, the firefighter could earn a point for the stand-by, provided the stand-by lasted four hours. In this way they would at least earn 1 point for this time period.
The real solution is to amend the statute to provide an alternative method to awarding points for department responses. The law that governs the volunteer ambulance company LOSAPs allows those point systems to award up to one-half point per response. This would eliminate the all-or-nothing approach of earning points for department responses, and also provide direct incentive of a point (or fraction of a point) for each response.