Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation designed to benefit firefighters who develop cancer when putting their lives — and lungs — on the line, reports mlive.com.
But Snyder, in a letter to state lawmakers, called the bill incomplete because it did not include a long-term funding mechanism, which he’s asking lawmakers to identify, preferably this year.
Public Act 515 of 2014, sponsored by Sen. Tory Rocca, will create a workers’ compensation presumption for firefighters that develop certain types of cancer, making them eligible for benefits without having to prove a direct cause for a disease that can develop over time.
“Firefighters who suffer workplace injuries, including cancer, are entitled to all of the benefits offered by our workers compensation system,” Snyder said in his letter. “Given the dangerous work our firefighters do I think a workplace cancer presumption is reasonable.”
The bill, introduced in 2013, renewed a debate that dated back to at least 1998, when then-Gov. John Engler vetoed similar legislation and called for additional research on the link between firefighting and cancer.
Subsequent research, including a 2006 study conducted by the University of Cincinnati, established that firefighters face an increase risk for certain cancers, and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health currently is studying risk-levels using data from Michigan and several other states.
The new law applies to respiratory tract, bladder, skin, brain, kidney, blood, thyroid, testicular, prostate, and lymphatic cancers. The presumption of workplace injury could be challenged if there is clear evidence that a firefighter was a regular smoker in the last 10 years and that tobacco use was a significant factor in the disease.
The legislation creates the First Responders Fund and directs the state worker’s compensation agency to pay claims and administer the fund.
However, Snyder noted in his letter that the bill did not identify a mechanism to fund the program. As a result, “this bill creates a system where an important benefit would be available first-come-first-serve, and only when funds are available.”
Snyder suggested potential funding options for the Legislature to consider, noting that a separate dust disease fund for logging industry workers is paid for through an assessment on workers’ comp carriers.
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