The Senate joined the House Tuesday in approving a bill that would create a relief fund for firefighters who are diagnosed with certain types of cancer related to their job.
The decision to establish the relief fund followed a year of fighting over a bill that would force municipalities to prove a firefighter didn’t get the cancer while working for the town. That bill passed the Senate, but never got called in the House and faced stiff opposition from local elected leaders, who said it would cost them millions of dollars.
This year’s bill, H.B. 5262, requires, to the extent permitted under federal law, an amount from the fee equal to one cent per month per enhanced 911 access line to be remitted from the fee to be deposited in the account the bill establishes. The fund would not be available for another three years and the amount being contributed annually would be capped at $400,000.
The bill was approved by 35-1 vote in the Senate. It was approved unanimously last Thursday in the House.
Sen. Joseph Crisco, D-Woodbridge, said the bill was personal for him. “As many of you know, my wife is battling of cancer. Firefighters, both professional and volunteers save the communities they serve millions of dollars by the heroic work that they do every day.’’
Sen. Rob Kane, R-Watertown, voted against the bill. “I am not anti-firefighter,’’ said Kane. “But I am concerned that the way we providing the funding for this is in violation of federal law – by sweeping the 911 fund.’’
Kane said it is his understanding that the 911 fund “should not be raided’’ for any funding “even if it’s only penny.’’
Others who voted in favor of the bill said it wasn’t clear that taking a penny from the fund was a violation of any kind. And if it was, they said, it would be up to legislators to find a different way next way to come up with the necessary funding,
Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, who helped broker the deal between the firefighters and municipalities, said she’s pleased with the legislation.
“I have met a number of firefighters who have contracted cancer while serving the community and I have made it my mission to fight for their health and safety,” Cook said. “As first responders, they sacrifice their lives to save ours, and they deserve this compensation. I am proud to stand with them.”
The bill had bipartisan support.
House Republican Leader Themis Klarides said, “We found a way to help the good men and women who are our brave firefighters, and, we did it in a way that would not put a burden on towns and cities – which we too often do.’’
The bill will also apply to firefighters who are no longer actively serving but who otherwise would be eligible for wage replacement benefits. These firefighters may apply for such benefits no more than five years from the date such individual last served.
In addition to providing wage benefits, this bill also requires firefighters to take preventative measures to avoid contracting cancer. Eligibility for the relief fund requires firefighters to maintain a healthy lifestyle and undergo regular pre-screening for cancer.
Peter S. Carozza Jr., president of the Uniformed Professional Firefighters Association, said he and his fellow firefighters “want to thank’’ legislators for crafting and passing the legislation.
He said he was “extremely grateful.’’