Senate panel approves Holy bills addressing issues related to COVID-19

Two bills sponsored by 6th District Sen. Jeff Holy that address issues arising since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic have been approved by the Senate Labor, Commerce and Tribal Affairs Committee.

The panel on Thursday passed Substitute Senate Bill 5190, which would provide health-care workers with presumptive benefits during a public-health emergency. The bipartisan bill specifically would make health-care workers eligible for unemployment-insurance benefits for workers who are terminated or left work to quarantine during a public-health emergency. SSB 5190 also would provide presumptive workers’ compensation coverage for health-care workers who contract the disease that is the subject of a public-health emergency.

“This is a common-sense bill that tries to solve a real problem faced by health-care workers during this COVID crisis,” said Holy, R-Cheney. “Health-care workers face a very direct and immediate threat when they have to treat patients with infectious diseases. I was approached by constituent health-care workers who had been told to take unpaid leave while quarantining due to exposure or infection – we must do better by them. When we are facing this type of emergency in our state and country, we need to take care of the people who are being asked to step up and take care of the public.”

The committee yesterday also advanced Substitute Senate Bill 5333, which would prohibit clauses in a public-works contract from waiving, releasing, or extinguishing the rights of a contractor to damages or an equitable adjustment arising out of a delay in performance caused by the COVID-19 pandemic emergency proclamations.

Holy introduced the bill after listening to concerns mentioned by the Associated General Contractors about challenges caused by the pandemic that have faced contractors.

“The COVID-19 pandemic significantly changed the conditions under which many contracts had reached agreement, including a lack of availability of materials,” said Holy. “Mandates requiring social distancing, additional cleaning, handwashing, and personal-protection equipment have slowed projects and increased costs. Contractors are responsible for many of these increased costs. This bill provides flexibility so a contractor can adjust to a situation none of us has ever experienced before.”

SSB 5333 has been sent to the Senate Ways and Means Committee for more consideration.