TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Legislation that would make firefighters diagnosed with certain types of cancers automatically eligible to receive disability or death benefits passed it first House committee Thursday.
After several years of not considering similar legislation, the House State Affairs Committee unanimously approved the measure that would also help also firefighters pay their bills while undergoing cancer treatment, by including a one-time lump sum payment of $25,000 upon diagnosis of one the 21 cancers specified in the bill.
Under current law, most firefighters must prove their cancer is job-related to be eligible for coverage.
Several current and former firefighters who are cancer survivors told the committee stories of their struggles.
State Representative Dianne Hart says the legislation is a no-brainer, given the increased risk of cancer among firefighters.
“Every single day, someone throughout our state of Florida is dialing 911 for a fireman or a policeman," said Hart. "You all put your lives on the line. You go into buildings that are burning to save somebody else. How could we not save you?”
Opponents of the bill say their resistance centers on how local governments will pay for the added benefits, not whether firefighters are deserving. Amber Hughes is with the Florida League of Cities.
“There are emotional parts to this argument, and then there are more pure policy parts. I get that people don’t like our discussion of actual policy," said Hughes.
The next stop for the legislation in the House was not immediately clear Thursday.
The Senate version of the bill is ready to be heard by the full chamber.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, firefighters have a 15 percent increased risk of developing cancer when compared to the general population.