Police officers who suffer post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental issues after shooting a person would be eligible for workers compensation under a bill that was approved by the South Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday.
The legislation was proposed after the state Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that Spartanburg County Sheriff’s deputy who shot a suspect while in the line of duty could not receive the benefits because the shooting was not an “extraordinary or unusual” event, as state law requires. The court ruled that the possible use of deadly force is considered part of the job.
State Rep. Tommy Pope (R-York) sponsored the bill, saying he disagreed with the court’s interpretation. On Wednesday, he argued that military members already get federal disability benefits for PTSD. “Military is more inclined to have to take a life than law enforcement ever is, yet we embrace that,” he said. “We recognize that.”
The legislation passed 69-45, with more conservative Republicans taking the side of several business groups who oppose the bill. 30 Republicans voted “yes,” while only one Democrat (Rep. Jackie Hayes) voted against. The bill will head to the Senate after another expected procedural vote on Thursday.
State Rep. Ralph Norman (R-Tega Cay) questioned whether the law would create a new precedent, as PTSD is rarely covered by worker’s compensation for any employee due to the “extraordinary and unusual” requirement. “We get saddled with this, the only ones who’ll benefit will be the lawyers,” he said on the House floor Wednesday.
That provoked an angered response from Pope. “Quit just giving (officers) awards and waving at them in the (Statehouse audience) balcony,” he said. “And do some small thing to help them.” He said the bill would only added a sentence benefitting law enforcement officers who use deadly force.
The original Supreme Court ruling dealt with former Spartanburg County deputy Brandon Bentley, who shot and killed a man he said tried to take his gun during a 2009 domestic disturbance. He never returned to work after that due to repeated psychological issues, according to court records. He was able to collect long-term disability pay from Spartanburg County, but a worker’s compensation commissioner ruled that Bentley knew the potential for deadly force was part of his job. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court.