FRANKFORT— While most of the world quarantined, first responders faced the COVID-19 pandemic head on.
Unfortunately, some first responders have died from COVID-19 after being exposed in the line of duty, and their families quickly learned they did not qualify for first responder death benefits.
Rep. Thomas Huff, R-Shepherdsville, told lawmakers on the Interim Joint Committee on State Government today he hopes to change that with Bill Request 430.
Huff was inspired to write the legislation after tragedy struck his home district. Last December, the Zoneton Fire Protection District in Bullitt County lost its fire chief and its interim fire chief to COVID-19 related complications within two months of each other.
“This is a bill for first responders; these are our heroes,” Huff said. “They jump in there when your house is on fire… they don’t take your temperature. They don’t put a mask on. They run in there and get you out.”
BR 430 would amend current statute on death benefits to include COVID-19 on the list of illnesses that can qualify a deceased first responder’s family for death benefits. Statute already defines first responders as police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services personnel, correctional officers and active duty Kentucky National Guard members.
Huff told lawmakers BR 430 would be retroactive, meaning any first responders who have died due to COVID-19 complications since March 6, 2020, would qualify. Huff said when he prefiled the bill on Aug. 30, there had been 11 first responder deaths in Kentucky. He expects more have died since then.
If the bill becomes law, families who qualify would receive $80,000.
Minority Caucus Chair Rep. Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said he would like to see medical personnel who work in correctional facilities included in the bill.
“I think they’re first responders too,” Graham said. “… That’s the thing I think many of us are concerned about. We don’t want to leave out anyone who are first responders.”
Lawmakers cannot take action on BR 430 until the 2022 legislative session, which begins Jan. 4.
The next Interim Joint Committee on State Government meeting is scheduled for Nov. 22 at 1 p.m.