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State leaders seek deal on firefighter cancer bill

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. 

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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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