LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A House committee advanced a bill designed to help the families of first responders who die in the line of duty as a result of COVID-19.
The House State Government Committee on Thursday approved House Bill 56, and it now heads to the House floor for consideration.
The proposal came out of the tragedy experienced by the Zoneton Fire Department. Both Chief Rob Orkies and acting Chief Garry Key died within months of each other from complications related from the virus.
“Both were very active in the community, very active members with the fire protection district and a great loss to the community,” Zoneton Chief Kevin Moulton told lawmakers during Thursday's hearing.
Moulton said the families later learned they were not eligible for the state's $80,000 death benefit because a quirk in the law meant COVID-19 deaths weren't covered.
HB 56 would change that.
“It creates a presumption that first responders who die of COVID-19 do so while in the line of duty and thus qualify for death benefits,” said Rep. Thomas Huff (R-Shepherdsville), the bill’s primary sponsor.
But one lawmaker questioned how anyone would know whether the first responder actually contracted the virus in the line of duty.
“Does your bill spell out how somebody would get that from the line of duty versus getting it from a family member?” asked Rep. Jim DuPlessi (R-Elizabethtown).
Huff said the person must have been working within two weeks of the diagnosis.
“If they were on a two-week vacation in Mexico and came back and were diagnosed with COVID, then they would not be eligible for this,” Huff said.
Moulton said firefighters, increasingly, are responding to medical calls.
“The fire service is still hands-on to a lot of these patients, taking care of them until they can get an ambulance there,” Moulton said.
Supporters pointed out that the cost to the state would be minimal.
“But it's not minimal to the individual first responder," said Rep. Jason Nemes, a Louisville Republican. "It's very significant to them."
The bill passed the committee easily.
“Ultimately, we owe it to our first responders and our firefighters to support them in this,” Rep. D.J. Johnson (R-Owensboro) said.
If HB 56 becomes law, it would be retroactive to March 2020, when Kentucky recorded its first known COVID-19 death.
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