House Bill 59 - Does it Help Teachers?

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All across the country, school officials are working to pass legislation that would shield them from lawsuits in the event that their employees or students were to contract COVID-19 at school. In Louisiana, this effort took form in House Bill 59, which was introduced at the request of the Louisiana School Boards Association. 

The original intent of this legislation was to protect economically disadvantaged school districts from frivolous lawsuits that could bankrupt the system, but it provided far reaching immunity to school boards (and later we saw the addition of colleagues/universities, charter schools and private schools) without ensuring protections for educators and students in our schools. Unfortunately, in some school districts, too many educators feel that the only way they could be sure that the district would prioritize their health and safety is if officials faced the possibility of a lawsuit. Meanwhile the Louisiana Department of Education was working on safety guidelines for reopening schools, but did not have the regulatory authority to enforce these policies in the individual districts.

In mid-June, LFT coordinated with LAE to encourage thousands of teachers and support employees to write to their representatives and ask that they amend or oppose HB 59 in order to ensure the safety of teachers, school employees, and above all: students. At the Capitol, LFT was clear — Louisiana's school doors should only reopen if districts can ensure every measure possible is in place to protect the lives of our children and the adults who serve them.

Because so many of you wrote to your legislators demanding action, LFT was able to negotiate multiple amendments in the House, which limited the scope of liability for Higher Education Governing Bodies and school boards for policy violations, gross negligence or wanton/reckless misconduct.

In the Senate, LFT worked closely with Senator Cleo Fields to amend the bill which require BESE and the college governing boards to adopt minimum safety standards for all Local Education Authorities in Louisiana. These standards will be “informed” by guidelines set out by the Center for Disease Control and shall be adopted by July 15, 2020. Once established, school boards will have the ability to institute more stringent safety protocols should they choose, but they will not be allowed to do anything less. This presents employees and other stakeholders with two opportunities to have input: when BESE sets the minimum policies for the governing bodies to follow and when the local governing bodies sets their own policy.

These additional amendments were very controversial in the House and ultimately not accepted until the final minutes of the session on Tuesday, June 30th. To see a more detailed timeline and analysis of the amendments, see below.

Because of HB 59, Louisiana is now one of only a handful of states that will institute mandatory, state-wide school safety protocols to combat COVID-19. This wouldn't have been possible without Representative Buddy Mincey Jr. who worked diligently to balance the different needs of school boards, teachers, parents and students. LFT will continue to work to ensure that the standards laid out by BESE and our college governing boards utilize every possible measure to protect students and the adults who serve them. 


Synopsis of Amendments:

The amendments which affect K-12 employees and Higher Education employees are listed below with summaries of the new/altered amendments added after each hearing. 

Original HB 59 – Filed 6/9/20

Created new section of statue:

§439.1. Immunity from claims or causes of action related to a declared state of emergency or public health emergency for an infectious disease.

A. Notwithstanding any other provision of law to the contrary, public schools, public school districts, public school governing authorities, and the officers, employees, and agents thereof shall not be held liable for any civil damages for injury or death resulting from or related to actual or alleged exposure to an infectious disease or acts undertaken in the effort to respond or adapt to a declared state of emergency or public health emergency related to an infectious disease.  

Summary: Grants K-12 LEA’s immunity.

B. There shall be no cause of action related to a person contracting an infectious disease at a public school, other public school facility, on a public school bus, or at a public school sponsored event, which is based on the actions or failure to act by school officers, employees, or agents in response to the declared state of emergency or public health emergency.

Summary: Grants employees immunity.

C. This Section shall not affect the right of any person to receive benefits provided under the Louisiana Workers' Compensation Law.

Summary: Protects employees’ ability to file Worker’s Compensation claim.

 

6/15/20 Bill Heard in House Civil Law and reported with amendments

Summary:

Higher Ed, charters and private schools added to immunity clause in HB 59.

 

6/23/20 - Bill heard on House floor and reported with LFT amendments

House Floor Amendment by Mincey:

D. The provisions of this Section shall be limited to claims related to the infectious disease which is the subject of the declared state of emergency or public health emergency.

E. The public and private schools, public and private school districts, public or private school governing authorities, charter school governing authorities, and the officers, employees, and agents thereof may not avail themselves of the immunity provided by this Section if the action or failure to act was in violation of a policy, rule, or regulation adopted by the public or private school, public or private school district, public or private school governing authority, or charter school governing authority or was in violation of any procedure mandated by law or by rule or regulation adopted by a federal or state agency in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, and such action or inaction is determined to be grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct.

Summary: Limits immunity for K-12 LEAs and employees if violation of policy occurs and is determined to be grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct.

"D. The provisions of this Section shall be limited to claims related to the infectious disease which is the subject of the declared state of emergency or public health emergency.

E. The public and private postsecondary education systems, public and private postsecondary education institutions, and public and private postsecondary education management boards, and the officers, employees, and agents thereof may not avail themselves of the immunity provided for by this Section if the action or failure to act was in violation of a policy, rule, or regulation adopted by the public or private postsecondary education system, public or private postsecondary education institution, or public or private postsecondary education management board or was in violation of any procedure mandated by law or by rule or regulation adopted by a federal or state agency in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act, and such action or inaction is determined to be grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct.

Summary: Limits immunity for Higher Education Governing Bodies and employees if violation of policy occurs and is determined to be grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct.

 

6/28/20 Bill heard in Senate Education

Senate Education Committee Amendment:

(2) A public-school governing authority shall not adopt a policy, rule, or regulation that imposes a lesser standard than what is prescribed in a rule or regulation adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in accordance with the Administrative Procedure Act.

Summary: Requires BESE to create baseline standards for K-12 LEA’s to follow.

1."COVID-19 or acts undertaken in the effort to respond or adapt to the COVID-19 public health emergency."

Summary: Limits immunity specifically to COVID-19.

 

6/29/20 Bill heard on Senate floor

Senate Floor Amendment by LFT, sponsored by Fields:

Section 3. Not later than July 15, 2020, the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education shall adopt emergency rules that conform to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to provide minimum standards, policies, and regulations to govern the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 school year to ensure that students, faculty, staff, and others on school property are protected to the extent possible and practical from COVID-19. Prior to the beginning of the 2020- 2021 school year, each public-school governing authority shall adopt policies, rules, and regulations in accordance with the rules and regulations adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Mandates that BESE adopt for K-12 LEAs to follow in re-opening schools. 

Summary: Requires BESE to adopt minimum standards as baseline policy for K-12 LEAs to follow to protect employees and students from exposure to COVID-19. These standards shall be similar to the CDC guidance and shall be adopted by July 15, 2020.  Requires K-12 LEAs to create and adopt policy which is not less than what is mandated by BESE.

Section 4. Section 1 of this Act shall become effective on the date the emergency rules adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education as required in Section 3 of this Act become effective. 

Summary: Provides for effective date of Act.

Section 5. The Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, the Board of Supervisors of Southern University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, and the Board of Supervisors of Community and Technical Colleges shall adopt policies that conform to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to provide minimum standards, policies, and regulations to govern the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021 school year to ensure that students, faculty, staff, and others on school property are protected to the extent practical and possible from COVID-19.

Summary: Requires higher education governing boards to adopt minimum standards as baseline policy for institutions under their authority to follow to protect employees and students from exposure to COVID-19. These standards shall be similar to the CDC guidance. Requires individual institutions to create and adopt policy which is not less than what is mandated by institution’s governing body.

Section 6. Section 2 of this Act shall become effective for the institutions under the control and management of each public postsecondary education management board on the date the policies required in Section 5 of this Act are adopted by their respective management board. 

Summary: Provides for effective date of Act.

6/30/20 Conference Committee Amendments:

Section 2. Not later than July 15, 2020, the State Board of Elementary and  Secondary Education shall adopt emergency rules informed by the Centers for  Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to provide minimum standards, policies,  medical exceptions, and regulations to govern the reopening of schools for the 2020- 2021 school year to ensure that students, faculty, staff, and others on school property are protected to the extent possible and practical from COVID-19. Prior to the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, each public-school governing authority shall implement policies, rules, and regulations in accordance with the rules and regulations adopted by the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.  



Summary: Requires BESE to adopt minimum standards as baseline policy for K-12 LEAs to follow to protect employees and students from exposure to COVID-19. These standards shall be influenced by the CDC guidance and shall be adopted by July 15, 2020.  Requires K-12 LEAs to create and adopt policy which is not less than what is mandated by BESE.

Section 3. The Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and  Agricultural and Mechanical College, the Board of Supervisors of Southern  University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, the Board of Supervisors for  the University of Louisiana System, and the Board of Supervisors of Community and  Technical Colleges shall adopt policies informed by the Centers for Disease Control  and Prevention guidelines to provide minimum standards, policies, medical  exceptions, and regulations to govern the reopening of schools for the 2020-2021  school year to ensure that students, faculty, staff, and others on school property are  protected to the extent possible and practical from COVID-19. 

Summary: Requires higher education governing boards to adopt minimum standards as baseline policy for institutions under their authority to follow to protect employees and students from exposure to COVID-19. These standards shall be influenced by the CDC guidance and shall be adopted by July 15, 2020. Requires individual institutions to create and adopt policy which is not less than what is mandated by institution’s governing body.

 

ADDITIONAL NOTES:

HB59 as filed:

  • Grants K-12 Grants employees immunity.
  • Grants LEA’s immunity.
  • Protects employees’ ability to file Worker’s Compensation claim.

HB 59 Enrolled:

  • Protects employees’ ability to file Worker’s Compensation claim.
  • Requires BESE to adopt minimum standards as baseline policy for K-12 LEAs to follow to protect employees and students from exposure to COVID-19. These standards shall be influenced by the CDC guidance and shall be adopted by July 15, 2020.  Requires K-12 LEAs to create and adopt policy which is not less than what is mandated by BESE.
  • Limits immunity for Higher Education Governing Bodies and employees if violation of policy occurs and is determined to be grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct.
  • Requires higher education governing boards to adopt minimum standards as baseline policy for institutions under their authority to follow to protect employees and students from exposure to COVID-19. These standards shall be influenced by the CDC guidance and shall be adopted by July 15, 2020. Requires individual institutions to create and adopt policy which is not less than what is mandated by institution’s governing body.
  • Limits immunity for K-12 LEAs and employees if violation of policy occurs and is determined to be grossly negligent or wanton or reckless misconduct.

Important points:

  • HB 59 requires BESE to set minimum guidelines for Higher Ed governing bodies and K-12 Local Education Authorities to follow as related to COVID-19.
  • HB 59 provides for employees and other stakeholders to have input at two levels:
    • When BESE sets the minimum policies for the governing bodies to follow
    • When the local governing bodies sets their policy
  • HB 59 does not affect Federal COVID-19 leave policy or extended sick leave.  If your district does not exempt normal sick leave taken for COVID-19 related request, then you will need to organize around that and lobby the superintendent and school board.

 

  • HB 59 does not remove the right of employees to be represented by their union.  Any local with a collective bargaining agreement should review their contract.  In many cases, a MOU will have to be negotiated.