St. Paul, Minn. – Minnesota’s first responders would have enhanced privacy protections thanks to legislation introduced by Senator Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove) would ensure conversations in peer support activities remain private. The move comes as more first responders experience traumatic events on the job and seeks to help reduce the potential of stigma for seeking support.
“When our first responders are unable to process their trauma in a confidential setting, the effects on their mental health can be devastating,” said Senator Bigham. “These protections can help bring peace of mind to first responders, so they can seek counseling without fear that their private information would not be released in the future.”
The legislation, SF 3836, would prevent the disclosure of any information or opinion which the peer group member or peer counselor has acquired during the peer support activity process, unless the person being counseled gives their permission.
“It is vital for first responder’s health and welfare that they be able to discuss these delicate situations in a privileged and confidential atmosphere in order to encourage their participation,”said Cottage Grove Police Officer Mike Vandervort. “This bill will allow first responders to safely talk about stressors openly in order to return to work healthy and with a renewed dedication to those they serve.”
The intent of the bill is to reduce the stigma around seeking counseling, and to encourage first responders to attend peer counseling without fear that the information will be used against them.
“This bipartisan bill directly corresponds to a strong, unanimous recommendation of the working group on police-involved deadly force encounters that Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and I convened,” said Attorney General Keith Ellison. “We recommended it because it provides an important and much-needed protection for officers, deputies, and first responders of all kinds. The bill will not only help them do their jobs better, it will help them and their families lead healthier lives. That benefits all Minnesotans.”
If a peer counselor feels like there is information that suggests the person attending counseling presents any threat to themselves or others, they may still release that information. The bill has bipartisan support in the Senate and is co-authored by Senators Bill Ingebrigtsen (GOP-Alexandria), Jeff Howe (GOP-Rockville), Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina), and Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park).
“Our first responders work hard to keep us safe,” said House author (HF4269) Representative John Huot (DFL-Rosemount). “They deserve access to a dignified and confidential peer Counseling support system.”