Two groups representing Georgia's firefighters say a West Georgia lawmaker is their top state legislator for 2017.
District 67 State Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, was named Legislator of the Year for the second consecutive year by the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs and the Georgia State Firefighter Association at the annual 2017 Georgia Fire Service Conference held in Athens.
Gravley, whose district includes portions of Douglas and Paulding counties, was selected this year for his dedication and hard work in passing the Firefighter Cancer Protection Act. HB 146, a bill which mandates certain cancer insurance provisions for firefighters.
The Legislator of the Year Award is given to a legislator who goes above and beyond in their role to support Georgia's fire service.
“I am deeply humbled and extremely honored to receive this award and recognition," Gravley said. "HB 146 is a tribute to Douglas County Firefighter Michael Richardson and Atlanta Firefighter Frank Martinez, both of whom lost their battles with cancer. They served their communities with dignity and honor.”
During this year’s legislative session, Gravley sponsored the legislation which creates an insurance benefit for firefighters diagnosed with certain types of cancer most common among firefighters. The benefit is determined by the cancer stage, as well as, the level of severity. The diagnosed firefighter will be eligible for a cash payout towards medical expenses, as well as, salary protection for 36 months thus allowing them to focus on treatment and time with family.
“Every firefighter in the state will have access, both volunteer and career firefighters,” he said.
Georgia has around 34,000 firefighters, and about 70 percent of those are volunteers.
“This legislation is personal to me because my family is full of firefighters," Gravley said. "These men and women who have been diagnosed with cancer due to their service deserve a fighting chance and I sincerely believe HB 146 gives them that chance.”
“I could not have done this without the 100 percent support of House Speaker David Ralston, Senator John Albers, and Paulding Firefighters Travis Boatright, Douglas County Fire Chief Scott Spencer and the everyday firefighters across Georgia that advocated for this bill at the Capitol on their off days,” Gravley said.
But the legislation went through some fine-tuning from its first version presented in the prior year’s session and vetoed by Deal.
Gravley said since then lawmakers were able to address concerns that the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia had about the bill.
“Little did we know the silver-lining to that veto would be the answer of HB146 which created an insurance benefit and brought it out of the worker’s comp designation, did away with all of the litigation, so the benefit actually allowed for the firefighter to focus on treatment and family,” Gravley explained. “The disappointment really turned into joy once we realized what had been put together in [HB] 146.”
And Gravley said things are lining up nicely on the administrative side.
“I heard from the GMA recently and the cost analysis is lower than what we what we originally thought it was going to be, which is expected to lower even more as more cities and counties get into the insurance pool,” he said.
Gravley said the key to the story is not giving up in working toward a worthwhile goal.
“Instead of throwing our hands up and drawing a line in the sand, we were able to get a better bill that everyone was able to have a part in ... and I think ultimately the state is going to benefit from this because now we have firefighters who know we’ve got their back for the service they’re doing for us,” he said.