Compensation for first responders’ families advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 10 to a bill that would provide a one-time death benefit to families of Nebraska first responders killed in the line of duty.

Sen. Matt Hansen
Sen. Matt Hansen

LB255, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, would provide monetary compensation to the family of a law enforcement officer, firefighter or public EMS ambulance squad member killed in the line of duty, including those who work on a voluntary basis.

The concept is common practice in other states, Hansen said, and is long overdue in Nebraska.

“Many of our neighboring states have some form of compensation for those who die in the line of duty,” he said. “I believe it is time for Nebraska to join our neighbors and make sure those first responders know that we value their work, their service and their lives.”

Under the bill, a qualifying family member must file for compensation within one year of the death. For first responders killed in 2022, compensation provided would be $50,000. For each following year, compensation would be equal to the previous year’s compensation increased by the percentage increase in the consumer price index for all urban consumers.

Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell spoke in support of the bill. He said it was a small way to thank first responders, especially the many volunteers who receive no compensation for their work.

“[This bill] is telling them … if they answer that bell — they go to that call and they never come home to their families — that we’re gonna give your family $50,000,” McDonnell said. “I don’t think $50,000 is enough but at least … they know we stepped up and did something to recognize their service and their ultimate sacrifice.”

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson expressed concerns that a one-size-fits-all approach could lead to duplicative benefits. He also suggested that technical changes be made to ensure that only individuals who die in the line of active duty would receive benefits under LB255.

“We have to remember that there are departments out there who do provide very adequate benefits on life insurance policies … so we are duplicating, in some cases, what they might be receiving,” Friesen said.

Opposing the bill was Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht. Many fire departments have negotiated contracts that already provide death benefits, she said, echoing concerns that the state would be providing monetary payments to families on top of generous local, agency-provided benefits.

“In our communities that lose a loved one that was on a volunteer firefighter department or a police officer in our local towns — if something happens — Nebraska rises to the occasion,” Albrecht said. “They can have money raised for these folks in minimal amounts of time.”

Senators advanced LB255 to select file on a 37-1 vote.

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