Monday, August 24, 2009

Death Benefit Bill for Police and Firefighters

The new Missouri Line of Duty Compensation Act provides $25,000 benefits for families of law enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, or firefighters killed in the line of duty. The act further extends benefits to air ambulance pilots, air ambulance registered professional nurses, and emergency medical technicians. The bill is clearly part of a political national wave to expand benefits post-9/11 to first responders.

Benefits are provided through a Line of Duty Compensation Fund in the Missouri statute treasury. The Division has the duty to investigate the application, and assert any defenses such as willful misconduct or intoxication. The defenses include proof that the individual is "on duty" and but for the individual's performance death would not have occurred. In the case of volunteer firefighters, benefits only apply if the person has principal employment other than as a firefighter. Volunteer firefighters working in one county and who volunteer in other county at the time of accident apparently are out of luck.

The act passed under the emergency rules for immediate full force on 6/19/09 to ensure that families of emergency personnel "know that their loved ones will be provided for upon his or her death." Fiscal notes to SB 332, the companion bill, noted infrequent occasions when Missouri employees died in these circumstances. Fiscal notes indicated minimal fiscal impact of its proposed lower $10,000 benefit, noting that since 1933 that 28 Mo Highway Patrol officers had died in line of duty, and that in the years studies from 2003-2006 only 15 people might have had claims. SB 332 proposed a longer statute of limitations of 300 weeks, tracking language from 287.020.4 (compared to 1 year of HB 580) and had extended benefits to various off-duty circumstances such as taking breaks while eating lunch. While Missouri has always created lower burden of proof for certain claimants, such as firefighters (287.120.10), this bill expands the preferred claimant class to EMTs and air ambulance personnel. One can only wonder when the school teacher and correction officer lobby will get on board as well.