During my decades as an accountant and business consultant, I learned that progress is often impeded when people ignore a good idea just because of the source. So, even though it is not usually politically astute to compliment your general election rival, I applaud my LD20 Senate opponent for his efforts with firefighters. My opponent and I disagree on many issues, but we both want firefighters to receive workers’ compensation benefits upon being diagnosed with cancer.
Along with the bill’s prime sponsor, he pushed for passage of SB 1160 that adds to the list of cancers that are presumed to arise from a firefighter’s employment. The bill, which did not pass the Republican-controlled Legislature, would have removed the requirement that firefighters document their exposure to a known cancer-causing carcinogen and clarified that the presumption is conclusive and irrebuttable if other requirements are met.
I strongly support our firefighters and completely agree that we need to ensure these brave first responders do not have to fight for workers’ compensation coverage while battling cancer. The presumption clarifications in the Senate bill are good, but another unfunded mandate is the last thing Arizona cities and towns need from the state.
For too long our current state legislators have avoided fiscal responsibility on important issues and pushed the burden onto others. Many fire districts and cities in Arizona are self-insured for a variety of items, including the workers’ compensation programs, and the changes mandated by SB 1160 could increase costs for cities and towns. This is why I support appropriating state funds to establish a fire district risk pool and help departments purchase protective equipment that will help keep first responders safe. Not only is this the right thing to do for our firefighters, but it is also a wise investment in our community, as it will help firefighters to get an earlier cancer diagnosis, receive prompt treatment, keep firefighters on the job, reduce future illnesses and save lives.
In March, Rep. Robert Meza proposed an amendment to the Health Budget Reconciliation Bill and eloquently spoke of our commitment to Arizona’s first responders. The one-time appropriation would have established funds for firefighter cancer research and prevention, municipal fire department reinsurance, and establishment of a fire district workers’ compensation pool. Unfortunately, leaders of the Republican party prevented any discussion of these much-needed measures, citing earlier agreements, chamber rules and expediency.
Next year, legislators will have to make difficult budget decisions on how to best address issues related to the pandemic, job growth, education and other immediate funding needs. During these negotiations, we need to remember our brave first responders. They have dedicated their lives to protecting ours, so we have an obligation to support our firefighters as they fight cancer.
It is time to fully address this issue, so we need elected officials who will work together, avoid partisan politics and pass reforms that ensure first responders who contract cancer get the workers’ compensation benefits they deserve and allocate the funds necessary for Arizona to live up to our obligation to heroic firefighters.
Doug Ervin is the Democrat candidate for state senator in Legislative District 20.