Senate backs measure covering firefighters’ cancer bills

The Georgia Senate unanimously backed a measure Thursday offering firefighters special insurance policies to cover treatment of certain work-related cancers, bringing it a crucial step closer toward final passage.

House Bill 146, sponsored by state Rep. Micah Gravley, R-Douglasville, and backed by Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, has become a popular cause among lawmakers. Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed a similar bill last year that would have allowed firefighters to file workers compensation claims if diagnosed with certain cancers.

So supporters came back this year with a tweak: Instead of workers comp claims, local governments instead would have to offer private insurance plans paying up to $25,000 upon diagnosis of certain cancers.

Thirty-eight states provide similar coverage for firefighters, said state Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, who is a volunteer firefighter. For all that firefighters do including rushing into danger to save people, Albers said, “today we can turn the tide and let them know we have their backs. To them it will mean everything in the world, and to their families.”

A number of firefighters and their supporters were in the Senate gallery to watch the vote, and broke into applause as the vote total flashed across the chamber’s electronic tally board.

The Senate during committee work added a maximum $50,000 cap on payouts and made additional minor changes to the bill. Thursday’s vote sends the bill back to the House so members can weigh in on those tweaks. If House members agree, the bill would be sent to Gov. Nathan Deal for his signature.