As of Wednesday, March 23, 2016
BOISE A bill to make it easier for firefighters to receive workers’ compensation for cancer passed the Idaho State Senate unanimously on Thursday, March 17, following a 65-3 vote in the House of Representatives the week before.
Various forms of the bill have failed to pass the legislature over the last 16 years.
“It’s because there’s been significant concerns over possible ramifications,” said Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot. “You want to see them treated fairly, not preferentially versus other citizens.”
Firefighters tend to be healthier than the average person, Dr. Francesca Litaw told a House committee by phone.
“So when we find firefighters have any increase in cancer rates, that’s unsettling,” Litaw said.
The bill would create a rebuttable presumption that the illness is caused from occupational exposure, said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s sponsor. He said this means if a firefighter contracts one of the cancers listed in the bill, it is presumed the illness was caused from exposure during work, but evidence can be presented to refute the claim. Currently, the law requires the firefighter prove their cancer was caused by occupational exposure in a process Malek said is near-impossible.
“Without this legislation, no fireman’s bills will be paid by workers’ compensation,” said Nampa attorney Richard Owen, who handles job injury cases.
Anderson said the bill was formulated through a give-and-take process and that it took addressing a number of concerns to get it passed. He said these include exemptions for genetic predispositions and tobacco use, a limit on the presumption to 10 years after retirement, and inclusion of volunteer firefighters.
Another addition was a 5-year sunset clause to reassess the law and to update it with modern data. Anderson said the CDC is currently conducting a study that will likely affect future versions of the bill.
“This is a bill I am satisfied with,” said Anderson, who filled in as chair of the committee working on the bill. “I could have kept it in committee to make it perfect, but we felt we needed to get this done for them.”