State Senate Bill Aims To Cover Texas First Responders Who Contract COVID-19

States across the country have taken steps to ensure first responders and their families are covered if they contract COVID-19, but not Texas, despite some efforts that began as early as March.

Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT), said first responders in the state began urging Gov. Greg Abbott to sign an executive order that would classify the novel coronavirus as a presumptive disease.

This would qualify police officers, corrections officers, firefighters and medics who get the virus for full coverage of healthcare costs and time away from work. With COVID-19 as a presumptive disease, employers would have to prove the virus wasn’t contracted on the job in order to get out of providing coverage.

Eighteen states have gotten this done since the start of the pandemic, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Half of them did it by executive order.

Abbott’s staff told KENS-5, a San Antonio-based CBS affiliate, Texas leaders were looking into this. “Obviously, we care dearly about our law enforcement, our first responders, those who are on the frontlines in all this process,” Abbott said. “So, we’re looking at all the tools in the toolbox to address issues like that.”

The governor hasn’t yet been persuaded to sign such an order, and his office did not respond for comment. So state Sen. Beverly Powell of Fort Worth filed Senate Bill 107, which would do the same thing.

According to a press release from Powell’s office, the state senator and a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to Abbott urging him to make the virus presumptive, but that didn’t work either.

“Since the start of this pandemic, far too many first responders and their families have felt the consequences of COVID-19,” Powell said in the press release. “Police officers, firefighters and EMTs are the first on the scene responding to COVID-19 emergency calls and deserve to know that their families will be supported should the virus take their life.”

I Support

  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Dallas and help keep the future of Dallas Observer free.

Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, said he thinks it would be best if these measures were taken through Powell’s bill rather than an executive order because it would be more permanent and could later be applied to future pandemics.

Wilkison said 50 law enforcement officers have died of COVID-19. The way things are now, the families of those officers are having to prove they got the virus at work in order to receive benefits. With the magnitude of calls first responders have to answer, and how long it can take to show symptoms, this is next to impossible, Wilkison said.

The Safeguarding America’s First Responders Act was passed unanimously on the federal level in August, which offers many of the same protections, but only applies to “public safety officers,” like police or firefighters. Under the federal legislation, these officers have to have been diagnosed with the virus within 45 days of their last day on the job in order to receive benefits.

Wilkison said these protections should be given to the rest of first responders and other frontline workers, like teachers. “We’re not trying to be exclusive. We’re just trying to do the right thing for these families,” he said. “It’s impossible to describe their loss, and the public has lost something along with them.”

Keep the Dallas Observer Free… Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who’ve won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists’ Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism’s existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our “I Support” membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.

Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button