Bill would maintain health insurance for fallen officers’ families

MADISON — Law enforcement officers often say their work is not a solo venture.

Spouses and children also bear a huge burden as officers miss birthdays, holidays, weekends and, more seriously, put their lives at risk.

A bill from state Sen. Van Wanggaard, a former Racine police officer, aims to give family members some safeguards if an officer dies in the line of duty.

The legislation would require municipalities and counties to continue paying health insurance premiums for spouses and children of officers, as well as emergency medical technicians, who die on the job.

Current state law provides that requirement only for families of firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Wanggaard’s bill also establishes a loan program surviving spouses could utilize in the aftermath of a death.

“It’s pretty important to me,” said Wanggaard, R-Racine. “To give that officer that peace of mind that when they go every day to put their life on the line and … maybe not come home, they at least don’t have to worry about their family having to look for some kind of protection that way.”

Wanggaard previously introduced the bill during the 2011-13 legislative session, but it fell off after he was recalled in June 2012.

This bill, which has been referred to the Senate Committee on Elections and Local Government, has co-sponsors from both parties. It also has the support of state and local police unions, which said the legislation would help ease the financial burden for fallen officers’ families.

“We think it’s a tremendously important bill,” said Jim Palmer, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association. “It recognizes that law enforcement officers’ service to their community is not a solitary endeavor. It is made possible by the support of loved ones sharing commitment to the safety of the community.”

Todd Hoover, a criminalist and president of the Racine Police Association, said the union is encouraged the bill has been reintroduced.

“It’s comforting to know that our families will be taken care of if you end up making the ultimate sacrifice,” he said.

The law would not apply to a spouse who remarries or reaches the age of 65 or to a dependent child who reaches age 18 and is not a full-time high school student.

According to the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Memorial, 266 officers have died in the line of duty. The memorial will add another officer in State Trooper Trevor Casper, who was killed in March.

The financial impact wasn’t known, but Wanggaard did not expect it would result in a huge cost.

He said the bill is a “minimal cost” to give families a small peace of mind.