A measure aiming to help firefighters in the battle against cancer (SB 426) has been signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis over the objection of some local governments as relayed by the Florida League of Cities.
“Here in Florida, we look after our first responders, and I am honored to sign this bill to help ensure our firefighters who are battling cancer have the tools and benefits they need,” DeSantis said.
“These men and women are true heroes, who often are the first on scene and the last to leave during an emergency. I thank CFO (Jimmy) Patronis for his steadfast support for this bill, as well as the Florida Legislature for unanimously supporting these brave public servants.”
Cancer treatment itself is often already covered by existing health plans. But firefighters can often foot the bill for out-of-pocket expenses such as co-pays and deductibles. The new law would require those expenses to be covered by the firefighters’ employer.
That employer is often the local governments for which the firefighters work. Those local governments would be responsible for the costs. That led to the law being dubbed an “unfunded mandate” in a letter addressed to the Governor from the Florida League requesting he veto the bill.
“In theory, it sounds like a worthwhile initiative, which is why it was met with great fanfare during Legislative Session. However, when you dig into the details, this is a significant unfunded mandate with widespread negative impact on property taxpayers,” the letter reads.
“The bill should be vetoed because it is grossly unresearched, and its unknown financial implications are disruptive if not disastrous to Florida taxpayers.”
But the bill’s supporters argue the legislation is necessary to ensure those seeking to be firefighters aren’t driven away by costs of treating cancer down the line.
The measure is what’s called a “presumptive cancer law.” That means should a firefighter in good health get one of 21 identified types of cancer, it is presumed the cancer stemmed from his or her work as a firefighter.
While workers’ compensation typically covers one-the-job related ailments, it can be difficult to prove the direct link to cancer for firefighters. That’s because those cancers are typically a result of repeated exposure to cancer-causing agents over time, rather than the result of one, easily identifiable instance.
“This marks an enormous victory for these brave men and women in their fight against cancer,” said CFO Patronis, who also serves as the State Fire Marshal.
“Today, Florida tells every firefighter battling cancer, every firefighter afraid of getting cancer, and every child who dreams of being a firefighter that we are in their corner. I’m proud that we can now add Florida to the list of states that provides this essential benefit for firefighters.”
Patronis has cited numbers showing 70 percent of firefighter line-of-duty deaths in 2016 were cancer-related. A total of 45 other states provide some form of cancer benefits for firefighters.
Miami Republican Anitere Flores sponsored the legislation eventually signed by the Governor, while Rep. Matt Willhite sponsored the House version.
“I am honored to have championed and ushered in protective legislation that is a win for the State of Florida and for an altruistic profession that overwhelmingly merits our full support,” Flores said following the Senate’s approval.
Patronis had bashed the Florida League of Cities for its opposition to the measure. “Excuses for not wanting to step up and putting politics in front of our firefighters is shameful,” he said. “The League of Cities continues to show they don’t care about the first responders who protect their communities every day.”