A bill sponsored by state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, that would provide insurance for firefighters who are diagnosed with cancer has passed through the state House and now moves onto the Senate.
The bill, officially named House Bill 146, passed the House 171-1 with the lone no vote coming from state Rep. Matt Gurtler, R-Tiger, who cited concerns about local control. Should the bill pass the Senate, it will go to Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal’s office for final passage.
“This bill is important because the state of Georgia is recognizing the work that firefighters do on a daily basis puts them in harm’s way, and we recognize that the potential for cancer diagnosis among our firefighters has greatly increased in the last 10 or 12 years due to the makeup of products (in our homes) that all of us enjoy,” Gravley said.
A similar version of the bill made it all the way to the governor’s office last year but was vetoed. Gravley said the governor was concerned with language in the previous version concerning worker’s compensation. This year’s version has altered the language in question and Gravley is confident of passage this time around.
The bill was partly inspired by the death of Douglas County firefighter Sgt. Michael Richardson in 2013. Richardson developed cancer after working several years for the local fire department and passed away only a few months after his diagnosis. Gravley spoke at his funeral.
“That was the first time I really started thinking about the exposure firefighters face in the line of duty,” Gravley said. “It was an up-front and personal case where I started thinking about my family members.”
HB 146 would require fire departments to provide and maintain adequate insurance coverage for firefighters serving 12 consecutive months, unable to work due to a disabling cancer diagnosis. Because they can be exposed to carcinogens as part of their work, research has found firefighters are more likely than the general public to develop several types of cancer, including testicular, kidney and lung cancer.
Longtime Douglas County Fire Chief Scott Spencer said he considers Gravley not only his legislator but a personal friend. He has supported the bill from its inception.
“If you’re fighting cancer, you don’t need to be worried about the financial end of it,” Spencer said. “You need to be focused on getting well.”
Specifically, the bill would provide a lump sum benefit of $25,000 or $6,250 based on the severity of the cancer. It also provides a monthly benefit equal to 60 percent of the firefighter’s monthly salary at the time of diagnosis, or a monthly benefit of $5,000, whichever is less.
Benefits would begin six months after the firefighter has submitted proof of their diagnosis and would continue for three years.
The cost, according to Gravley, is estimated at between $300 and $400 per firefighter per year. He also added that the entire Douglas County delegation at the State Capitol supports the bill.
Lastly, the bill would allow firefighters to maintain their insurance coverage upon retirement or a career change, but recipients would be responsible for paying insurance premiums in those scenarios.
“As far as I’m concerned it’s one of the most important bills that has been passed for firefighters in Georgia in my lifetime,” Spencer said. “This will take care of firefighters.”