Nebraska lawmakers advance bill to increase death benefits for first responders

Nebraska Legislature
Posted at 11:54 AM, Feb 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-26 12:54:49-05

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Public safety officers killed in the line of duty would get a $250,000 check from the state, up from the current $50,000 death benefit, under a bill given initial approval Friday.

Legislative Bill 717 advanced on a 32-6 vote, but only after some senators questioned whether the proposal was a “political move” during an election year and whether it was truly needed.

State Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, the prime sponsor of the bill, said increasing the death benefit for firefighters (both volunteer and professional), as well as police officers and state troopers, was appropriate.

Morfeld said such public servants put their lives on the line every day, and the current $50,000 death benefit falls short of covering all the expenses for a funeral and for survivors.

Last year, after a similar debate, state lawmakers passed a bill sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen law that established the death benefit, setting the benefit at $50,000.

But on Friday, a handful of senators, led by Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht, questioned whether an increase so soon was warranted. She said her community usually raises money for those killed in the line of duty.

Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen added that he didn’t expect any payment when he was a volunteer firefighter and that insurance would provide some death benefits.

Albrecht also called LB 717 a “political move” since both Morfeld and another supporter or the bill, Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, are seeking election this year, Morfeld as Lancaster County attorney and Pansing Brooks as a congressional representative in the 1st District.

Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell, a former Omaha fire chief, criticized opponents of LB 717 for arguing over “numbers” — the amount of the death benefit.

He pointed out that the state’s revenue coffers are flush with money and that a fiscal note on the bill projected an annual impact of only $600,000.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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