More than two dozen firefighters filled the House gallery today as the House debatedHB 554, Rep. Luke Malek’s bill to change Idaho’s worker’s compensation law to presume that certain cancers, within certain time periods, are job-related for firefighters. “This bill is a result of a tremendous amount of work done by many people,” Malek told the House. “There are both policy reasons and scientific reasons for this bill. This bill recognizes that there are women and men who rush into danger while the rest of us run away. They take risks to preserve life. … One of those risks is cancer.”
The bill creates a “rebuttable presumption” that specified cancers are work-related for firefighters; it includes an exception for any firefighters who smoke or who live with someone who smokes; it includes volunteer firefighters; and it has a five-year “sunset clause” saying the change in law expires in five years.
“Firefighters are unknowingly exposed time after time to terrible carcinogens,” Malek said, and because so many hazardous substances may be present inside a burning building, it’s impossible to track the exact source or cause.
Rep. Patrick McDonald, R-Boise, a longtime police officer, urged support for the bill. “I work very closely with these guys, and let me tell you, that they are on inside of where the problem is,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to be on the perimeter keeping people from getting in.”
Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, asked whether the bill might result in an increase in worker’s compensation rates for a farmer who employs a couple of workers. Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly, who serves on the board of the State Insurance Fund, said no; they’re in a different classification of workers. The change will result in an actuarial change over time for firefighters that could affect worker’s compensation insurance rates, Gestrin said, but it’s likely to be very small. Malek said Utah passed a similar law in recent years and saw no change in rates.
Some form of the legislation has been proposed each year for the past 16 years; it’s twice passed the Senate, but this is the first time it’s made it to the full House.
Today, the House voted strongly in support of the bill, passing it 65-3. There was no debate against it. The three “no” votes came from GOP Reps. Heather Scott, Ron Nate and Steven Harris. The bill now moves to the Senate side.