|ACT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY||2007-2008|
NO. 53. AN ACT RELATING TO CLOSURE OF THE BENNINGTON STATE OFFICE BUILDING.
It is hereby enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont:
Sec. 1. LEGISLATIVE FINDINGS AND STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
(a) The general assembly finds the following:
(1) The state of Vermont has owned and operated the Bennington state office building (BSOB) located at 200 Veteran’s Memorial Drive since 1977.
(2) In 1990, the state of Vermont completed a significant addition to the BSOB increasing the total square footage to 63,500 square feet. At the end of 2006, approximately 135 people were employed at the BSOB.
(3) Results of a health survey conducted by the Vermont department of health in 2006 found that the occupants of the BSOB reported higher than expected rates of sarcoidosis.
(4) Sarcoidosis is a disease of unknown causes characterized by inflammation in one or more organs and may cause slight‑to‑major pain and disability.
(5) To date, six current or former state employees who worked in the BSOB report that they have been diagnosed with sarcoidosis. According to the Foundation for Sarcoidosis Research, nationally, sarcoidosis occurs at a rate of one in 10,000 people.
(b) Although the cause of sarcoidosis is not yet known and the relationship of sarcoidosis to the environment of the Bennington state office building cannot be determined, the general assembly is concerned about the welfare of any current and former state employees and intends to ensure that eligible affected state employees receive reasonable compensation for their suffering.
Sec. 2. SARCOIDOSIS BENEFIT TRUST FUND; CREATION; PURPOSE
(a) The sarcoidosis benefit trust fund is hereby created to be managed in accordance with subchapter 5 of chapter 7 of Title 32 and administered by the department of buildings and general services. The fund shall be composed of donations, contributions, or appropriations made to the fund.
(b) The fund shall be used to provide compensation to any eligible current or former state employee who has been diagnosed with sarcoidosis after working in the Bennington state office building. To be eligible for benefits under this section, a state employee shall meet both of the following conditions:
(1) The diagnosis of sarcoidosis occurred after at least five months of continuous employment in the Bennington state office building located at 200 Veterans Memorial Drive.
(2) The state employee has waived the right to any civil action against the state for damages relating to sarcoidosis and to workers’ compensation benefits relating to sarcoidosis pursuant to chapter 9 of Title 21. The waiver shall be on a form approved by the commissioner of labor.
(c) Unless the state has provided conclusive evidence that the sarcoidosis was caused by circumstances unrelated to the state employee’s exposure in the Bennington state office building, a state employee who meets the conditions set forth in subsection (b) of this section is entitled to all of the following benefits:
(1) Reimbursement for medical expenses incurred for treatment of sarcoidosis prior to the effective date of this act not covered by other medical insurance. Treatment of sarcoidosis after the effective date of this act shall be paid by the fund in accordance with the fee schedule established by the department of labor.
(2) Reasonable and necessary travel and other expenses related to treatment of the sarcoidosis pursuant to rules adopted by the department of labor.
(3) Temporary disability payments for wages lost from the time the eligible employee was unable to work as the result of sarcoidosis until the employee reaches a medical end result or returns to full‑time employment. Payment under this subdivision shall be limited to the difference between any federal or state provided disability benefits received by the eligible state employee or to which the eligible state employee is entitled and two‑thirds of the employee’s average weekly wage computed for the 12 weeks prior to becoming disabled from work due to sarcoidosis. The average weekly wage shall be computed in accordance with rules adopted by the department of labor and chapter 9 of Title 21.
(4) Wage replacement benefits when an eligible state employee returns to work less than full time. Payment under this subdivision shall be the difference between the gross wages earned and the employee’s average weekly wage computed pursuant to subdivision (3) of this section less any federal‑ or state‑provided disabilities benefits paid.
(5) Permanent disability payments for any permanent impairment of function resulting from sarcoidosis. Impairment shall be evaluated in accordance with the most recent edition of the AMA Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment.
(6) Where appropriate, an eligible state employee shall be referred to the vocational rehabilitation division of the department of disabilities, aging, and independent living for evaluation of eligibility for vocational rehabilitation benefits under existing programs.
(d) Eligible state employees shall provide documentation for reimbursement for out‑of‑pocket medical treatment and lost wages incurred prior to the effective date of this act no later than one year after the effective date of the act or within two years after the claim is reasonably discoverable and apparent.
(e) Claims for compensation under the provisions of this section shall not be assignable and shall be exempt from all claims of creditors or third party payers.
(f) The department of labor shall:
(1) Adopt rules regarding determination of claims, dispute resolution procedures, and any other issue relating to effecting the purpose of the fund.
(2) Create standard forms to assure efficient administration of the fund.
(3) Resolve any disputes that arise between a state employee and the fund including eligibility for payment from the fund, causation, or the type or amount of benefit owed.
(g) The department of buildings and general services shall continue to pay voluntary payments at least for out‑of‑pocket medical expenses for treatment of the sarcoidosis until rules have been adopted by the department of labor, and shall be credited for all voluntary payments made.
Sec. 3. BENNINGTON STATE OFFICE BUILDING; CLOSURE
No state employee shall be permitted to work in the Bennington state office building located at 200 Veterans Memorial Drive until the department of health has determined that the air quality and health conditions of the building are safe and free from levels of airborne pathogens, particulates, mold, and other environmental contaminants that are likely to cause injury or disease to humans. This prohibition shall not apply to employees who are properly equipped to work in the building to perform rehabilitation and reconstruction work necessary to make the building habitable as an office.
Sec. 4. BENNINGTON STATE OFFICE LOCATION TASK FORCE
(a) The Bennington state office location task force is created to act as the representative of the “legislative body of the municipality” as that term is used in 24 V.S.A. § 2794(a)(13). The task force is created specifically to evaluate the best alternatives for permanent relocation of the state employees in the event that the department of health determines that the Bennington state office building cannot be reoccupied and used as an office building. If relocation is necessary, the task force shall consider multiple locations within the downtown area that are within easy walking distance of each other in the designated downtown district of Bennington. The task force shall carry out the purposes of this section consistent with chapter 76a of Title 24.
(b) The task force shall be composed of nine members to include the following:
(1) The chair of the Bennington selectboard, who shall be chair of the task force.
(2) The Bennington town manager, or designee.
(3) The director of planning and development for Bennington, or designee.
(4) A member of the Bennington planning commission.
(5) The executive director of the Better Bennington Corporation, or designee.
(6) The executive director of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce, or designee.
(7) The director of the Vermont state employees’ association, or designee.
(8) A member of the house of representatives representing Bennington appointed by the speaker of the house.
(9) A member of the senate from Bennington district appointed by the committee on committees.
(c) The task force shall consult with the department of state’s attorneys and sheriffs prior to developing findings and recommendations.
(d) The task force shall hold its first meeting within 30 days after the diagnostic report on the building is issued, and shall meet as needed thereafter. No later than January 15, 2008, the task force shall issue a written report of its findings and recommendations for office space for state employees in the designated downtown of Bennington to the Bennington selectboard, the commissioner of buildings and general services, the senate committee on institutions and appropriations and the house committees on institutions and appropriations.
Sec. 5. APPROPRIATION; TRANSFER AUTHORITY
(a) There is appropriated from the state insurance reserve fund to the sarcoidosis benefit trust fund in fiscal year 2008 the amount of $150,000.00.
(b) Notwithstanding 32 V.S.A. § 135, the secretary of administration is authorized to transfer moneys from the state insurance reserve fund to the sarcoidosis benefit trust fund as needed to pay projected claims determined to be eligible pursuant to Sec. 2 of this act.
Sec. 6. EFFECTIVE DATE
This act shall take effect on July 1, 2007, except that the department of labor shall begin the rule‑making process upon passage of this act.
Approved: May 29, 2007
The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street