March 31 2017

     EMAT requested legislation to make emergency management personnel eligible for the same death benefit as other first responders is now moving in both chambers. The bill, HB604/SB763 (Halford/Stevens), is scheduled for discussion in the Senate State & Local Government Committee next week. The committee is meeting both Tuesday and Wednesday next week in an attempt to work through a lengthy calendar. If your legislator serves on this committee, you should contact him and ask for his support. A list of members can be found below.

     In the House, the bill was recommended by the House State Government Committee and sent to the House Finance Subcommittee for consideration on Wednesday, April 5. This is necessary because the bill comes with a fiscal note of $25,000, indicating the need for funding the cost of one potential annual death benefit based on actuarial estimates. While this is below the “sweeper” in the Senate, which is a threshold that allows any bill with a cost of less than $50,000 to be automatically funded, the House has different procedures. In the House Finance Subcommittee, any bill with a cost that was not funded in the Governor’s initial budget proposal is required to be placed “behind the budget.” When the updated or supplemental budget is filed near the end of session, bills that are funded in that proposal will move forward. The legislature then selects additional proposals to fund based on remaining revenues available.
     Separate legislation that proposes to increase death benefits to a total of $250,000 payable over five years, SB1059/HB1368 (Bowling, Sargent), was recommended by the Senate State & Local Government Committee and sent to the Finance Committee. It is set for consideration in the House State Government Committee on Tuesday, April 4. While numerous bills were filed this year relative to the death benefits paid to families of first responders, these two are the only proposals still moving in both chambers. This bill has a significantly higher fiscal note associated with it.
     Members of Senate State & Local Government include:

Sen. Ken Yager, chair


Sen. Richard Briggs, 1st vice chair


Sen. Ed Jackson, 2nd vice chair


Sen. Paul Bailey


Sen. Todd Gardenhire


Sen. Jack Johnson


Sen. Bill Ketron


Sen. Mark Norris


Sen. Jeff Yarbro



Health Insurance for Families of First Responders

     A bill that would extend health insurance benefits for the family of a first responder who dies in the line of duty, HB466/SB822 (Lynn, Haile), was recommended by the Senate State & Local Government Committee with an amendment that makes offering the benefit optional for state and local governments. The bill, as amended, defines first responders as paid, full-time law enforcement officers and firefighters. It limits the extension of health insurance benefits to a period of two years after the death of the first responder. The bill is set for the House State Government Committee on Tuesday, April 4.

Post Disaster Assistance

     Legislation that would allow a city or county to spend public funds to clean up private residential property has also been sent to the Finance Subcommittee where it will be heard Wednesday. It was amended in the House Local Government Subcommittee to clarify that the county commission must authorize a highway department to do work on private property and provide for funding outside of dedicated transportation funding. SB964/HB1166 (Overbey, Crawford) has already passed the Senate.

     A separate insurance related bill, SB373/HB467 (Overbey, Swann), has been taken off notice. As introduced, the bill provided that an insured party that has losses from catastrophic wildfires must be paid for the full amount of coverage purchased without the necessity of purchasing replacement items prior to being compensated. With committees closing down, it appears this bill will not move forward this year.

Natural Disaster Relief Program

     A bill to create a TEMA administered natural disaster relief program for incidents that do not reach the level for a federal declaration was recommended by the Senate State & Local Government Committee and sent to Finance. SB1158/HB32 (Hensley, Byrd) is scheduled for discussion in the House State Government Subcommittee on Wednesday, April 5.

Public Safety Behavioral Health

     A bill, SB211/HB709 (Green/Whitson), to require public safety employers to offer up to 10 free counseling visits for treating PTSD in its employees was recommended by the Senate Health Committee with an amendment that defined “public safety employees” as emergency medical services employees or professional fire fighters who are paid full time employees of a public safety employer. The House Health Subcommittee did not hear the bill this week, but it was rescheduled for Wednesday, April 5.