Legislators Nearing Deal On Cancer Coverage For Firefighters

 Legislators Nearing Deal On Cancer Coverage For Firefighters

Hartford Courant, February 26, 2016

By Daniela Altimari

HARTFORD — Lawmakers are working on a compromise that would set up a compensation system for firefighters who develop certain cancers without unduly straining municipal budgets.

"We're close, we're very close, but we aren't there yet," Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, told the legislature's labor committee Thursday. Cook is helping to broker an agreement between various stakeholders, including firefighters who are seeking workers' compensation or disability coverage for certain cancer-related expenses, and municipal leaders concerned about the costs of such care.

Supporters cite studies that show a strong link between firefighting and an increased risk of cancer because of exposure to toxic chemicals. A bill that would have created the presumption that firefighters diagnosed with certain forms of cancer contracted the disease on the job — and are thus eligible for workers' compensation — was raised late in the 2015 legislative session.

The proposal proved extremely controversial. It brought scores of firefighters, both paid and volunteer, to the Capitol to lobby in favor of the expanded coverage. But lawmakers also received pushback from mayors and first selectmen who branded the measure an unfunded mandate that strained municipal taxpayers could ill afford. The legislation, which was part of a larger bill that would have expanded workers' compensation coverage for police officers who witness trauma, cleared the state Senate but never came up for a vote in the House.

Hopeful of a compromise back to top

Now those on all sides of the debate say they are hopeful a compromise can be reached on the bill.

"We're at that point of finding a solution," said Rudy Marconi, first selectman of Ridgefield and a member of the board of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. "Can I say that every single municipality is going to agree with what we're putting forth?" he asked. "I doubt it. I don't think we're going to have a unanimous vote no matter what we do."

Cook noted that 33 states have some type of coverage for firefighters who contract certain forms of cancer on the job. "Over the past few months, we've been meeting regularly ... trying to ensure a piece of legislation that everybody in the room and in our building can wrap their hands around and support," she said.