Bill that would benefit deceased public safety personnel’s families held up in House committee.

June 29, 2016
These men who serve Mason County each have spouses and young children who depend on health benefits from their jobs: From left, Off./FF Spencer Lindbloom, LPD/LFD; Sgt. Mike Hanson, MCSO; Dep. Ken Baum, MCSO; Assi. Chief Darryl Crawford, CFD; FF/EMT Justin Melchert, CFD/GFD.

These men who serve Mason County each have spouses and young children who depend on health benefits from their jobs: From left, Off./FF Spencer Lindbloom, LPD/LFD; Sgt. Mike Hanson, MCSO; Dep. Ken Baum, MCSO; Assi. Chief Darryl Crawford, CFD; FF/EMT Justin Melchert, CFD/GFD. The group is posing next to a sculpture at the sheriff’s office which is dedicated to fallen law enforcement officers who served in Mason County.

#MichiganLegislature #MasonCountyPress 

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.

Every day public safety employees in Mason County put their own lives at risk to protect the citizens and visitors of this community. They include over 50 law enforcement personnel from four law enforcement departments and over 100 firefighters and medical first responders from 11 fire departments. With the exception of personnel from Michigan State Police, if any of those men and women were to get killed in the line of duty, their families would not receive continuing assistance from the state. A proposed bill may change that, if it can move out of committee.

Senate Bill 218 was introduced in the Michigan Senate in March 18, 2015 by Sen. Wayne Schmidt (R-Traverse City). The bill would amend Public Act 46, also known as the Public Safety Officers Benefit Act by providing compensation and other benefits to dependents of public safety officers who are killed or who are permanently and totally disabled in the line of duty. The act would also create a public safety officers benefit fund, prescribe the duties and responsibilities of certain state officers; and to make an appropriation. The benefits would have a five year limit.

The bill was passed in the Senate 117 to 37 on April 29, 2015 and sent over to the House on April 29, 2015 where it was referred to the House appropriations committee. It has been there since.

The Michigan Sheriffs’ Association has begun a push to move the bill out of appropriations and onto the House floor. Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said he backs that move and would like to see the bill become legislation.

“The public safety personnel of this community — and every community in this state — put their lives on the line every day. A good portion of these people are essentially volunteers who fight fires, respond to vehicle crashes and medical calls just to help out their fellow citizens. Compensating families in the case of serious injury or death is the least the people of the State of Michigan can do for these folks.”

Currently, the MSP is the only agency that provides such benefits for its personnel, under its collective bargaining contracts.

“I think it is great that the state police troopers receive this benefit,” Cole said. “They are very much deserving of it. But, as it stands right now, if there is a car crash in Mason County and an state trooper, sheriff’s deputy and firefighter respond and all three were to be killed or seriously injured, only the state trooper’s family would receive benefits from the state. These folks equally serve the people and equally deserve benefits.”

State Rep. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo) is the vice chair of the House appropriations committee. He said he is in support of the bill in principle but the hold up is a question of how it’s going to be paid for.

“Several of us on the appropriations committee, including myself and chairman Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville) were in favor of the bill,” Bumstead said. “But, several representatives were concerned about the long term funding of this bill.”

Bumstead said the legislature is currently considering several bills that deal with the regulation of legalized medical marijuana. Those bills are expected to generate considerable income, which is a possible source of funding for SB 218.

Bumstead said he recognizes that the bill’s annual cost estimation of $58,000 is not too significant compared to other projects the state funds. However, if money is taken out of the state’s general fund, it means another program will lose that amount of money annually.

“It’s one of those feel good bills. I get it. But, before you pass a bill you should find a permanent funding for it and not just have a one time fix. That’s why it’s sitting there.”

Bumstead said he’s confident the bill will be passed from appropriations when the legislature reconvenes in the fall. He did add, however, that several representatives believe the funding should come from local governments rather than the state.

Sheriff Cole disagrees. “That’s rather unrealistic. Perhaps the county could cover those costs for sheriff’s office employees but firefighters are not employees of the county but rather the municipalities. Besides, the state government funds many ‘local’ projects, such as the Detroit Public Schools.”

According to Terry Jungel of the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, the state currently funds over $12 million in local projects, from painting water towers to remodeling parks.

Cole said the state averages about five public safety deaths a year.

“Even if it was $1 million a year, it’s a small price to pay for the people who put their lives on the line for the citizens and visitors of our state,” Cole said. His sentiments were echoed by a group of local firefighters and law enforcement officers who recently gathered at the sheriff’s office to discuss the bill.

Darrell Crawford is assistant fire chief of Custer Township Fire Department. is married and has two children, ages 9 and 12. He has a full time job but knows that a death or serious injury means he is no longer employed there and his health benefits are gone.

“I know my duties with the fire department put me at a much higher risk than the duties I perform in my full time job,” Crawford said. “I am on the fire department to serve my community, to help my neighbors. Having the peace of mind that my family would be taken care of if I were to die on duty would ease a burden.

“In this age when we are having difficulty recruiting new members, I think that would offer some incentive to our recruits as well.”

Firefighter Justin Melchert, who serves on Custer and Grant fire departments, said he couldn’t agree more.

“Perhaps in a perfect world it would make sense for the local governments to offer these benefits, but our local governments are already stretched as it is,” Melchert said. “The fire departments struggle just to pay for equipment and cover the small amount of wages we earn.”

Spencer Lindbloom serves in both law enforcement and the fire service. He is a full time police officer with Ludington Police Department and is also a firefighter on Ludington Fire Department. Like Melchert and Crawford, he has young children.

“Knowing that my family is taken care of if I were to die or become disabled would certainly be comforting,” Lindbloom said.

Melchert, Lindbloom and Crawford are deep rooted in the fire service. Each are second generation firefighters who serve on their respective departments with their fathers, who are also each active firefighters. They said they know the risks and have known them since they were young children.

“It’s a small investment for the people of Michigan to pay,” Sheriff Cole said.

How you can voice your concerns: Legislation is made by constituents contacting their elected officials. Best practice is to contact your local state representative. For those who live in Mason and Manistee counties, Ray Franz is the rep. For those who live in Oceana County, Jon Bumstead is the rep.

Rep. Ray Franz (R-Onekama), Michigan’s 101st District (Mason, Manistee, Benzie, Leelanau counties), 517-373-0825, [email protected].

Rep. Al Pscholka (R-Stevensville), Michigan’s 79th District , chairman of House appropriations committee.

517-373-1403, [email protected]

Rep. Jon Bumstead (R-Newaygo), Michigan’s 100th District (Oceana, Newaygo, Lake counties), vice chairman of House appropriations committee.

517-373-7317, [email protected]

Rep. Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant), Michigan’s 99th District, speaker of the House.

517-373-1789, [email protected]

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