INDIANAPOLIS — A bill guaranteeing health insurance coverage for families of public safety officers killed in the line of duty has passed the Indiana Senate.
Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, penned the legislation that requires employers to continue paying for insurance for the spouses and children of public safety officers who are killed while working.
The bill — Senate Bill 152 — passed the Senate 49-0 and now moves to the Indiana House for consideration. That chamber has until March 5 to approve the bill.
Under current law, only the families of Indiana State Police officers and local police officers killed in the line of duty are provided with health coverage.
The bill would extend that benefit to full-time firefighters, police officers, sheriffs and sheriff’s deputies employed by the state or local governments, universities and schools, airports and hospitals.
Senate Bill 152 would require the employer of any public safety officer who dies in the line of duty after June 30 to offer to pay for health coverage for their surviving spouse and children, including step- and adopted children.
The surviving spouses would receive health insurance benefits until they remarry, start a job that offers health insurance or become eligible for Medicare. Children would be covered through their 18th birthday or 23rd birthday if they’re enrolled in college.
Crider first introduced the bill in 2017, and it was assigned to a group of lawmakers who spent the summer studying the issue further.
Crider knows of the struggles families face when their loved one dies unexpectedly in service to their communities.
Early in his career as an officer for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, a colleague died in a plane crash, leaving behind his wife and young children. When he died, she lost her health insurance coverage. That’s a burden spouses shouldn’t have to shoulder, Crider said, calling his proposal common-sense legislation.
“Dealing with a tragic, unexpected loss is already difficult, and this bill would provide more families with some relief by giving them the financial assistance they may need,” he said.
Lawmakers who first heard and amended the bill in committee meetings earlier this month supported the proposal but questioned what constitutes an on-duty death.
Crider said the officer would probably have to be marked on-duty through dispatch, but some existing laws consider death after certain medical events or illnesses line-of-duty deaths.
Greenfield firefighter Scott Compton, for example, died of a heart attack about 12 hours after battling a blaze late last year. His was considered a line-of-duty death because it happened within 48 hours of fighting the fire.
He’s one of three Hancock County firefighters and four police officers who have been killed in the line of duty.
The bill has generated a lot of support among the public safety community, Crider said.
The city of Greenfield already offers financial support to the family of its only fallen officer, lifting one of the burdens his widow would have faced after his unexpected death.
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, Police Chief Jeff Rasche previously told the Daily Reporter.