House bill would help families of fallen officers

Published 5:05 pm Friday, February 17, 2012

When a peace officer, corrections officer or firefighter in Alabama is killed in the line of duty, his or her family currently receives no continuation of health care coverage.

Thus, when Jemison Police Officer Josh Newman died in a motor vehicle accident during his shift March 5, 2011, his wife Tracy and 4-year-old son Jace were left with no health insurance.

“A few weeks following Officer Newman’s death, I was having a conversation with Tracy,” Chief Shane Fulmer said. “She asked me if I was aware of any benefit that would provide her and Jace with health care coverage.

“She went on to say that Josh had always provided this for their family, and now that he wasn’t here, she didn’t know what she would do for insurance.”

Fulmer started researching the issue and found the State of Alabama Board of Adjustment provides $100,000 to families of officers who die in the line of duty but nothing else.

“I found that most states in the country do as well and that an additional benefit provided by the board in other states was that families received continuation of health care coverage for a certain period of time,” Fulmer said. “The state of Alabama does not have this benefit.”

Fulmer contacted Rep. Kurt Wallace about the situation, and they formed House Bill 11, which would provide families of fallen officers in Alabama with health care coverage until the officer’s spouse remarries, finds a job or the children are old enough to have their own insurance.

“From a humanistic point of view, I think it’s very important,” Wallace said. “One of the things the Bible talks about is taking care of widows and orphans, and this is kind of my way of making sure we do that.”

The bill passed in the House committee meeting Feb. 15 and will be sent to the legislative floor for discussion and possible approval.

Then, HB 11 must be passed in the Senate and approved by Gov. Robert Bentley before going into effect.

“It’s something that’s long overdue for families of fallen officers,” Fulmer said. “I just think it’s a very important benefit. They lose enough as it is, and to have the extra burden of healthcare … this worry will no longer exist.”

Wallace said the bill may not reach the floor for another week or two but thinks the governor will support it.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a problem,” Wallace said. “It’s not a bill that is going to have a financially significant impact.”

Right now, only be 10 people in Alabama would qualify for health care coverage under the bill, Wallace said, adding that it would cost about $7,000 a year.

“I thank Rep. Wallace for taking the time because he’s really worked hard on it,” Fulmer said. “There are a lot of things that you have to do, and it’s my responsibility and obligation to ensure that everything gets done and the family gets taken care of. It’s going to be great for everybody.”