The Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation (STORM) Act was signed into law on Jan. 1, providing a $200 million revolving loan fund through which the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) can fund flood mitigation and resilience projects. Although money won’t be distributed until next year, this fund should provide an easier avenue for municipalities to pursue funding for projects in place of other federal grant programs that can be more difficult to secure.
LOOK UP TO THE SKY
FEMA has paid a $195.8 million premium for $1.15 billion of reinsurance for the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) this year. This year’s program involves 32 reinsurers compared with 27 in last year’s $1.33 billion program. On Oct. 1, 2021, new rates for all NFIP-insured properties will go into effect under a redesigned flood risk rating system referred to as “Risk Rating 2.0.” Risk Rating 2.0 will incorporate a broader range of flood frequencies than the current methodology and will also incorporate third-party, commercially-prepared catastrophe flood models and replacement costs.
According to a new report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Friday, the United States hit a record high with 22 billion-dollar disasters in 2020. The losses from these events totaled $95 billion. These disasters include 10 severe weather events, seven cyclones, three tornado outbreaks, one drought and heat wave event, and the wildfire event in the Western states. Last year was the most active wildfire year on record across the West with California recording five of the six largest wildfires in its history and Colorado had three of the largest wildfires in its history. The previous record was 16 billion-dollar disasters set in 2011 and again in 2017
Natural catastrophes around the world increased from $166 billion to $210 billion in 2020. Losses that were insured rose to $82 billion from $57 billion in 2019. The disasters claimed approximately 8,200 lives worldwide. The report also urged action to prevent climate change from bringing about more such hazards. The report came one day before the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service said 2020 tied 2016 as the world’s warmest year on record, rounding off the hottest decade globally.
Heavy snow has already plastered parts of Texas and Louisiana, seeing as much as 9” of snow. We, Midwesterners, are used to driving in such slick conditions so be careful out there. We’ll keep reporting on any climate change regulations that could affect the industry and how climate events are impacting businesses and individuals.
PRESUMPTION ON THE AGENDA
New York introduced legislation (S.B. 1241) that would make COVID-19 compensable under workers’ compensation. The bill is similar to the bill introduced last year in the last session. It would make COVID-19 an occupational disease under the workers’ compensation law. Among those who would be covered under the bill are first responders, health care workers, and any essential workers who work outside the home during an outbreak, or any who work outside the home during a period of closure of non-essential businesses. The bill would take effect immediately if signed into law. Alaska also filed a COVID-19 presumption bill (H.B. 45) that would create a presumption of compensability for COVID-19 during a declared emergency for a select group of workers, including first responders, health care workers, teachers, grocery workers, and child care workers. This bill would be retroactive to Nov. 15, 2020 if signed into law. Oregon lawmakers also introduced COVID-19 presumption bills for certain classes of workers during a declared emergency.
AS WELL AS LIABILITY PROTECTIONS
Indiana lawmakers introduced bills aimed to protect Hoosier businesses from COVID-19 lawsuits. The bill would provide employers and individuals with immunity from civil liability for damages if someone was exposed to the virus on their property or during an activity they organized. The bill’s protections would not cover employers or individuals if their actions “contribute gross negligence or willful misconduct.” Coronavirus liability protections are also being discussed in the panhandle. A bill filed in Florida will provide houses of worship, employers, schools, and other nonprofits with a liability shield from COVID-19-related lawsuits, if they meet minimum recommended safety requirements. Currently, there are 16 states that have some level of a COVID-19 liability shield.
Making Our Way Around the Country
The Kansas Supreme Court on Friday ruled that an amendment to the Kansas Workers’ Compensation Act was constitutional because it did not alter the requirement that a worker’s impairment be “established by competent medical evidence.” The court heard arguments over which edition of the American Medical Association guide should be used for evaluating injuries in determining compensation to injured workers. Critics argue that the Sixth Edition of the AMA guide adopted by the Legislature unfairly limits compensation to injured workers; whereas, supporters contend it better reflects technical advancements. The court found that the AMA guidelines are merely a guide and only serve as a starting point for any medical opinion. The court reversed a 2018 ruling by the Court of Appeals that had found the updated law unconstitutional.
Last week the U.S. Labor Department released its final rule to clarify the standard for employees versus independent contractor status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The final rule reaffirms an “economic reality” test to determine whether an individual is in business for him or herself (independent contractor) or is economically dependent on a potential employer for work (FLSA employee). It also identifies and explains the two core factors of that test are the nature and degree of control over the work and the worker’s potential to make a profit or loss. There are three other factors that can serve as a guidepost – amount of skill required, the degree of permanence of the working relationship, and whether the work is part of an integrated unit of production. The rule will take effect on March 8, 2021. However, the incoming Biden Administration could freeze the rule on a technicality or the new Congress can overturn this rule. The rule has implications for millions of workers, including gig workers and people in service jobs.
Indiana lawmakers introduced a bill that would allow workers to choose their attending physician to treat a work-related injury or occupational disease and the employer will be required to reimburse the treating physician. The bill would be effective July 1, 2021; however, the bill also applies to workers injured prior to July 1, 2021.
REMEBERING MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
The Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday is this Monday, Jan. 18, and celebrates the civil rights leader’s life and legacy. It is the only federal holiday designated as a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities. Whether you plan on watching the Civil Rights Museum’s virtual celebration of MLK, donating to your local food pantry, or something else, let us reflect on his courage and perseverance. Stay safe, stay well, and stay connected.