Fallen officers’ families focus of bill

GREENFIELD – Widows and children of public safety officers killed in the line of duty would continue to receive health insurance coverage under a bill drafted by a Greenfield lawmaker.

Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, will introduce legislation in 2018 that would require employers – such as cities and counties – to continue paying for insurance for the families of public safety officers after they are killed while working.

The surviving spouse would receive health insurance indefinitely, and children would be covered through their 18th birthday or 23rd birthday if they’re enrolled in college. The current system guarantees coverage for about two years after the death, he said.

The benefit would be available to police officers, firefighters and university police and conservation officers.

Crider first introduced the bill earlier this year, and it was assigned to a group of lawmakers who spent the summer studying the issue. After hearing testimony from people who have a stake in the matter, including the widow of a slain Indiana State police trooper, the group plans to recommend lawmakers approve the bill when the Legislature reconvenes in January.

Crider hopes the bill is well-received by lawmakers this winter.

The legislation was inspired by an event early in Crider’s career as an officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. An officer died in an airplane crash while on duty, leaving his wife behind.

When he died, she lost health insurance coverage. That’s a burden widows shouldn’t have to shoulder, he said.

The state averages about one law enforcement death a year, so providing insurance to those families won’t have a large financial impact on city, county and state budgets, Crider said.

Hancock County has lost two firefighters and four police officers who were killed in the line of duty.

The Legislative Services Agency estimates providing insurance to the families of fallen officers would cost nearly $18,000 per family, based on the annual employer rate for state employees’ insurance.

“This has low cost impact, but if you’re a family, and you’re in this situation, it’s a huge deal,” Crider said. “This is one thing we can do to help those folks that have a family member pay the ultimate sacrifice.”

Greenfield Police Chief Jeff Rasche commended Crider’s efforts, adding that the city of Greenfield already offers financial support to the family of its only fallen officer.

Officer Will Philips, a Greenfield patrolman, was killed in a hit-and-run car wreck in 2010 while training with the department’s bicycle patrol team. He left behind his wife and two young sons.

Phillips’ widow pays for the family’s dental and vision insurance, but the city will provide their medical insurance for life, Rasche said.

Police officers risk their lives every day to serve and protect their community. Knowing their families are taken care of, that the burdens created by a lose of income or health insurance would be lifted if something happened to them, would make the job a little easier, Rasche said.

Daily Reporter staff writer Caitlin VanOverberghe contributed to this story.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.