Iowa Governor Signs Bill Expanding Benefits for First Responders

May 11, 2009

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver signed into law a measure expanding benefits for police and firefighters who get cancer and some other infectious diseases.

Under the measure, the diseases are presumed to be job-related, an assumption that boosts pensions and other benefits.

“The bill is simple, yet important,” Culver said at a signing ceremony flanked by firefighters. “Our first responders face higher than normal rates of certain diseases, including cancer.”

Employees will pay for the extra benefits through increased contributions.

The measure generated little attention during the just-completed legislative session, but it was a top priority for leaders of police and firefighter groups, who showed up in force for the bill signing ceremony.

“The fact is, it’s an important benefit that’s well deserved,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters. “It’s a benefit that we don’t take lightly.”

Sen. Jeff Danielson, a Cedar Falls Democrat and a firefighter, joined the ceremony and credited Culver with helping push the measure through a crowded legislative agenda. He said the measure helped working family, a goal for Democrats and Culver in the last legislative session.

“I’m a blue-collar guy, boots on the ground,” Danielson said.

Culver said first responders earned the expanded benefits.

“They risk their lives and they’re there for us when we need them,” the governor said.

The diseases include many heart and lung disorders that can be caused or aggravated by repeated inhalation of smoke.

The governor has until late this month to deal with measures sent to him by this year’s Legislature, with bills dealing with much of the state’s $6 billion state budget still awaiting his approval.

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