State leaders seek deal on firefighter cancer bill

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State leaders seek deal on firefighter cancer bill

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JOHN SPINK / AJC/JOHN SPINK / AJC
March 26, 2014 Atlanta: Atlanta firefighters work to contain the blaze in the 800 block of 834 Lullwater Rd NE in Atlanta Wednesday, March 26, 2014. An overnight fire damaged a historic Druid Hills mansion. Four firefighters suffered injuries battling the Tuesday night blaze that destroyed a large, vacant home in the Druid Hills neighborhood of northeast Atlanta. One of the firefighters was trapped in the burning house and had to be extricated by fellow firefighters using a metal-cutting saw, according to Atlanta fire spokeswoman Janet Ward. Ward said that firefighter was in good condition at Grady Memorial Hospital late Wednesday morning. The other injured firefighters were treated for minor injuries at Grady and released. Honora Handley and her husband recently bought the house, which was designed by architect Francis Palmer Smith, who also designed downtown's Rhodes-Haverty Building and William-Oliver Building as well as Midtown's Cox-Carlton Hotel and Grace United Methodist Church. "We closed on it Dec. 30 and we had all of our friends over on Jan. 1 for an open house and people loved it," she said. "We bought it because it was a grand, historic home and hadn't been renovated," Handley said. Handley said they had big plans for the house. "We pulled the historic plans from Francis Palmer Smith, and were looking to put it back to its original splendor," she said. "It needed work, and we were looking to lovingly restore it, and it's just a shock that it's gone," she said. "We pulled up this morning and the front of it just collapsed. The cause of the fire is under investigation. JOHN SPINK/JSPINK@AJC.COM

The idea of taking care of Georgia’s firefighters who contract work-related cancers is widely supported at the state Capitol. The only question has been who, and how, to pay for their care. 

Key lawmakers, Gov. Nathan Deal’s office and local government officials are near an agreement that would make firefighters eligible for private insurance policies, rather than filing state workers’ compensation claims. 

Deal on Monday praised mayors at a Georgia Municipal Association breakfast for seeking compromise. House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, the key driver behind the effort the past few years, likewise said he’s confident a solution is in sight. 

Lawmakers in 2016 overwhelmingly adopted legislation that would allow firefighters to file workers’ compensation claims if they can provide “a preponderance” of evidence that their work caused the disease. 

Firefighters applying for the benefit would have to demonstrate exposure to a known carcinogen as a result of their occupation. Otherwise, state law considers cancer an “ordinary disease of life,” disqualifying it from claims.

But Deal vetoed the bill, saying he was concerned the bill carved out an exception for one occupation and was a “broad solution for a problem not yet abundantly demonstrated in Georgia.”

Ralston said Monday he and Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, who has sponsored the bill, remain committed to it. 

"I stand ready to work with you, as does Rep. Micah Gravley, who carried that legislation last year,” Ralston told the mayors. “We have to find a reasonable solution because it's the right thing to do for our firefighters and their families.”

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