Increased compensation proposed for first responders’ families

The Business and Labor Committee heard testimony Jan. 24 on a bill that would increase a one-time death benefit available to families of public safety officers killed in the line of duty.

Sen. Adam Morfeld
Sen. Adam Morfeld

During the 2021 legislative session, senators passed a bill that provides a one-time death benefit of $50,000 to the family of a paid or volunteer law enforcement officer, firefighter, correctional officer or government or nonprofit EMS ambulance squad member. For each following year, the compensation will be equal to the previous year’s compensation increased by the percentage of the consumer price index.

LB717, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Adam Morfeld, would increase the monetary compensation to $250,000 for deaths occurring in 2022. The benefit would increase in future years in the same manner as the previous legislation.

In many cases, Morfeld said, the current death benefit given to families would not come close to covering medical and funeral expenses, let alone ensuring that families are compensated for their loss of income.

“I truly believe that $50,000 is not nearly enough for the death of a public safety officer, whose duty it is to protect all of us,” he said.

Under the bill, a public safety officer would need to designate a beneficiary to receive the death benefit. If no beneficiary is designated or the beneficiary is not alive at the time of the death of the public safety officer, compensation would be paid under the laws of intestate succession.

Darren Garrean testified in support of LB717 on behalf of the Nebraska Professional Fire Fighters Association, saying the benefit is important to families who are left behind after a death.

“Everybody knows that doing the work of a firefighter or a paramedic is inherently dangerous and we do what we can through training to reduce the possibility of tragedy,” Garrean said. “Unfortunately, there is always going to be a tragedy.”

Karla Houfek also spoke in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska State Volunteer Firefighters Association. For most families, she said, small children are left behind after the death of a public safety officer, and workers compensation doesn’t account for the rising cost of living that they will face.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action.

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