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BILL AS PASSED BY SENATE 2007-2008

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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 organ.

(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. 

(6)  The workers’ compensation system was established to provide benefits to individuals who suffer injury or illness arising out of and in the course of employment and represents a public policy compromise in which workers who suffer injury or illness arising out of and in the course of employment give up the right to sue the employer for negligence in return for which the employer assumes strict liability and the obligation to provide a speedy and certain remedy for work-related injuries and illnesses.  Gerrish v. Savard, 169Vt. 468 (1999).

(7)  Workers’ compensation laws are to be construed liberally to accomplish the humane purposes for which they were passed.  Giguere v. E.B. & A.C. Whiting Co., 107 Vt. 151(1935).

(8)  In workers’ compensation cases, the claimant has the burden of establishing all facts essential to the rights asserted.  Goodwin v. Fairbanks, 123 Vt. 161 (1962).

(9)  The claimant has the burden of showing a causal connection between the injury and employment, and that the claimant is therefore entitled to relief under the workers’ compensation act.  Egbert v. Book Press 144 Vt. 367 (1984).

(10)  There must be created in the mind of the trier of fact something more than a possibility, suspicion, or surmise that such was the cause, and the inference from the facts proved must be at least the more probable hypothesis, with reference to the possibility of other hypotheses.  Burton v. Holden & Martin Lumber Co., 112 Vt. 17 (1941).

(11)  It is difficult to prove a causal connection between sarcoidosis and the workplace, since the cause of sarcoidosis is unknown.  

(b)  The purpose of this act is:

(1)  To minimize the difficulty of proving causation by providing a mechanism for employees at the Bennington state office building who are diagnosed with sarcoidosis to be deemed eligible for workers’ compensation benefits, provided they meet the criteria identified in subsection (a) of this section.

(2)  To retain and not to contravene, amend, overturn, or in any way alter the conclusions of law in the cases referenced in subdivisions (a)(8), (9), and (10) of this section, except that claimants who satisfy the criteria of Sec. 2 of this act are entitled to the presumption created by this act and shall not be required to satisfy the standards of proof regarding causation articulated in section (a).

Sec. 2.  WORKERS’ COMPENSATION; PRESUMPTION OF
 COMPENSABILITY; STATE EMPLOYEES; BENNINGTON
 STATE OFFICE BUILDING 

Any person who has worked as a state employee at the Bennington state office building for at least six consecutive months prior to January 1, 2007, and who, after that six-month period of employment, is or has been diagnosed with sarcoidosis, shall be presumed to have suffered a work illness, injury, or disease caused by exposure to the air quality of the work environment in the Bennington state office building, unless it is shown by a preponderance of the evidence that the illness, injury, or disease was proximately caused by nonwork‑related risk factors or exposure and shall be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits pursuant to chapter 9 of Title 21, notwithstanding any statute of limitations for filing a workers’ compensation claim.  Such state employee shall be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits beginning the first day that the employee was or is diagnosed with sarcoidosis, and those benefits shall be paid in accordance with the provisions of chapter 9 of Title 21.

Sec. 3.  BENNINGTON STATE OFFICE BUILDING; CLOSURE

No state employee with a workplace in the Bennington state office building shall be permitted to work in that building after April 1, 2007, until such time as the air quality and health conditions of the building have been determined by the department of health to be 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)(12).  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)  A member or employee of the Vermont state employees’ association.

(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 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. 



Published by:

The Vermont General Assembly
115 State Street
Montpelier, Vermont


www.leg.state.vt.us