By Shaylee Ragar and Tim Pierce
UM Legislative News Service University of Montana School of Journalism 

Firefighter Protection Act becomes law, Hanna's Act revived

 

April 25, 2019



HELENA -- Gov. Steve Bullock has signed into law the Firefighter Protection Act, which requires workers’ compensation insurance to cover presumptive occupational diseases, like cancer, for the state’s firefighters.

Senate Bill 160 was carried by Sen. Nate McConnell, D-Missoula, who said at the bill signing that his brother is a firefighter, so the issue is personal.

The bill has been a goal for the governor for several sessions.

“Every firefighter should know Montana has their back. And it’s about damn time,” Bullock said at a bill signing ceremony Friday.

The bill requires a certain number of years service to make a workers’ compensation claim.

Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters, said those in the profession get cancer at rates multiple times of the general population.

“It is the job, it is the exposure, it is the toxic soup (firefighters) work in,” Schaitberger said.

The ceremony also honored Jason Baker, a firefighter who advocated for this legislation before he died of lung cancer Feb. 20, after 16 years of service as a firefighter in Great Falls, the Great Falls Tribune reported. His wife and two kids were in attendance at the bill signing.


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McConnell worked with a number of lawmakers across the aisle to pass the bill, including Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, R-Great Falls, and Rep. Sue Vinton, R-Billings. McConnell said it will help the next generation of Montana firefighters, and that he’s honored to help this cause.

“There are rarely opportunities for somebody to carry a bill that means so much to our heroes,” McConnell said.

Lawmakers Pass Legislation to Address Missing and Murdered Indigenous People

After a turbulent journey through the Montana Legislature, the bill named after Hanna Harris, who was found murdered on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2013, passed the Senate 37-13 last week.

House Bill 21, also known as “Hanna’s Act,” would create a special position in the state Department of Justice that would investigate all missing persons cases in the state. The bill’s carrier, Sen Diane Sands, D-Missoula, said it’s key to addressing what she calls the “crisis” of missing Montanans to have a person at the department “who has those skills and relationships to be able to cut through all the bureaucratic red tape and make sure we do everything we can to find those people who are missing or murdered.”


The Senate Finance and Claims Committee had recently re-added language that forces the DOJ to create the position and also brought back the $100,000-per-year funding.

Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, voted against the changed bill.

“This is a job description that we are putting into statute. That leaves no flexibility for the position to adapt and adjust,” Fielder said. “Unless, you come back next session and run another bill at the expense of the taxpayers.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee also originally tabled the bill, but eventually passed it.

However, while “Hanna’s Act” was in the Senate Finance and Claims Committee, it was amended to be a companion to Senate Bill 312, which would create a unified network that collects data on missing indigenous people. With the new changes, if SB 312 died, so would “Hanna’s Act.”

SB 312, which is sponsored by Sen. Jason Small, R-Busby, was tabled in the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month. But, it was then revived and passed out with amendments that switched oversight from the Board of Crime Control to the DOJ. It passed its final vote in the House last week on a 92-5 vote.

Shaylee Ragar and Tim Pierce are reporters with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Newspaper Association, the Montana Broadcasters Association and the Greater Montana Foundation. Shaylee can be reached at shaylee.ragar@umontana.edu. Tim can be reached at tim.pierce@umontana.edu.


 

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