Historic Vote for Florida’s Firefighters

CANCER PROTECTION FOR FIREFIGHTERS PASSES HOUSE UNANIMOUSLY

In a historic week for Florida firefighters, both the Senate and the House passed bills unanimously to extend coverage for firefighters and their families.

The bill now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature which will add Florida to the list of 45 other states that have cancer coverage for firefighters.

This legislation dates back to 2003 when then-Senator Jeff Atwater filed the bill for the first time.  The bill was temporarily postponed that year and never filed again until 2016 when Representative Heather Fitzenhagen and Senator Jack Latvala refiled the bill, utilizing the original language. In previous years, even with vast bipartisan support, having passed several Senate committees and making it to the Senate floor, the bill never made it to an agenda for its first House committee.

This week, all that changed.  Under pressure from firefighters and the public, Speaker Jose Oliva reversed his earlier decision and allowed the bill to be placed on an agenda with Leadership as the Sponsor. Thursday, April 18, after over an hour and a half of heartfelt testimony from survivors, widows, firefighters, and members of the house,
the State Affairs committee moved the bill to the floor of the House unanimously, voting 24-0.

On April 24, 2019, from the floor of the House, Representative Blaise Ingoglia stated, “Today the Florida House showed that we have the backs of those who have our backs. As community leaders, our firefighters have waited long enough to get the cancer coverage they need.  It’s not often that you get to do something extraordinary and monumental that will have a great impact on people’s lives.  I’m honored to stand here beside Speaker Oliva, CFO Patronis, Representative Willhite and Representative Latvala, to deliver a much-needed benefit for these hometown heroes.” 

As Ingoglia finished his comments and members cast their votes, the room, filled with firefighters from across the State, erupted with cheers as the board showed 116 yays and 0 nays. It was a unanimous decision. Everyone including the members were cheering, applauding, hi-fiving, and the firefighters in the gallery gave a standing ovation to the members of the House.

Heather Mazurkiewicz, a firefighter, member of the North Collier Professional Firefighters, and outspoken advocate for this bill, said “In my 20 years of involvement with the Florida State Legislature, I have never witnessed this level of emotion in either Chamber. I am very proud of the work our firefighters did to educate our Legislators about why this coverage is necessary, and I am equally proud our elected officials who listened to our 911 call to them and have provided this coverage for us and for our families.  It is truly a historic day in the State of Florida for firefighters.”

Assuming the Governor signs the bill, it will be effective on July 1, 2019, and establishes 21 cancers as occupational hazards associated with firefighting.  It will require firefighters be granted health insurance, including disability and death benefits, as long as they meet requirements like no tobacco and being on the job for the previous five years. It is essentially an alternative to the workers’ compensation system and grants firefighters a one-time lump sum $25,000 payout upon diagnosis. Currently, 45 other States have similar coverage for firefighters.

For more information, please contact 11th District Communications Coordinator, Heather Mazurkiewicz at 239-470-2478