ATLANTA - State lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to give firefighters special insurance in case they get cancer from the job.
Currently, firefighters who get sick may lose their jobs and health insurance.
"When we run into these houses to try and put out the fire to save lives, we're being exposed to very toxic carcinogens," said Capt. Dennis Thayer, with the Georgia Firefighters Cancer Coalition.
Under the new plan, they would get a special payout of $25,000 and three-years salary to help with healthcare costs.
Lawmakers stood and applauded when the proposal passed. Firefighters talked to lawmakers about why this bill was so important.
"Fire service isn't like a lot of other jobs where you can still work if you're sick. You got to be on you're A-game to work as a firefighter," Thayer said.
The bill's main sponsor said it will honor Frank Martinez, an Atlanta firefighter who died of cancer last year.
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"Frank stated he understood this would not benefit him, but he was here for his brothers and sister going forward," State Rep. Micah Gravley said.
House speaker David Ralston said this bill send a clear message to the men and women in uniform.
"This gives them courage and income assistance when they contract those physical problems, and I think it's going to mean a great deal to them," he said.
There was one lawmaker who opposed the bill. State Rep. Matthew Gurtler said in a statement that his opposition had nothing to do with denying benefits to firefighters.
"I am extremely thankful for firefighters and individuals who choose to dedicate their lives to helping others.
"My opposition is not towards giving firefighters these benefits, which I believe is a good idea, it's about the state mandate. The principle is about removing local control from our cities & counties through a state mandate, and I don’t think it’s a good long-term solution.
"Cities & counties currently support giving these types of benefits and can do so without setting dangerous precedents and taking away from local control. The GMA (cities) & the ACCG (counties) supported the bill, and I support supporting firefighters, it’s the manner that don’t think is in line with Republican limited government conservative principles.
"Throughout my campaign those are values & principles I emphasized, and I was elected to represent them even when public perception is counter intuitive.
"I trust our local leaders care about our firefighters as deeply as I do, and in cases they don’t, I would be more than happy to advocate that we do right by our public servants. In some cases that might mean changing local leadership through elections.
"I've talked with all my local Fire Chiefs in the 8th District, in Union, Towns, Rabun & White counties, as well as the District 3 Georgia State Firefighters Association Representative and they all share my sentiments."
Lawmakers passed a similar bill last year, but Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it. They cleaned up some of the issues and Deal is expected to sign this one.
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