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House panel unanimously approves firefighter cancer bill

The bill had struggled to move in that chamber.

After facing a rocky road on its way to Thursday’s hearing, a bill expanding access to insurance benefits for firefighters was approved unanimously by the House State Affairs Committee.

The measure (SAC 4) is what’s called a “presumptive cancer law.” While workers’ compensation typically covers one-the-job related ailments, it’s much more difficult to prove the direct link to cancer.

For firefighters, those cancers often stem from repeated exposure over years and decades to cancer-causing agents, rather than a single, identifiable instance.

A majority of states have passed similar legislation.

Like a companion bill (SB 426) filed by Sen. Anitere Flores, the House measure says that should a firefighter in good health get cancer, it is presumed the cancer stemmed from his or her work as a firefighter.

But while the Senate version sailed through its three committees unanimously, it was a struggle to even get a hearing on the House side.

House Speaker José Oliva originally blocked the bill from advancing in the House. The Tallahassee Democrat reported Oliva’s reasoning was over a political grudge, at least in part stemming from Miami-Dade County firefighters supporting former firefighter David Perez in a race against Oliva ally Manny Diaz in a 2018 Senate race.

At Thursday’s hearing, Committee Chairman Blaise Ingoglia called that characterization a “myth.”

“I can assure you that contrary to what has been reported, our firefighters and first responders are a priority to House leadership and Speaker Oliva,” Ingoglia added in a statement following the panel’s approval of the bill.

“When presented with the opportunity to carry this bill, it wasn’t a no…it wasn’t a yes. It was a hell yes because firefighters are the lifeline of our communities, and they deserve to know their bravery and sacrifice is never in vain.”

Oliva also released a statement Tuesday pushing back against the piece.

“The debate this year, as in past years, was never against firefighters nor was it political,” Oliva said. Instead, the Speaker argued his hesitation stemmed from disagreement over who would pay for the expanded coverage for firefighters.

“Still, the environment has become too toxic to debate the true original disagreement,” Oliva continued. “As such, we will move legislation forward, more so as the differences are not so great as to invite the assumptions now being spread.”

Indeed, concerns over who would foot the bill were raised by the Florida League of Cities at Thursday’s hearing. Those concerns have also been raised over on the Senate side. While the coverage mandate is being made at the state level, local governments who employ the firefighters worry they’ll be stuck with the cost.

Still, CFO Jimmy Patronis thanked Oliva for reversing course and allowing the bill to move forward.

Written By

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to ryan.t.nicol@gmail.com.

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