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Arizona bill aims to close benefits loophole for firefighters with cancer

Firefighters gathered at the Arizona Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, for an announcement about legislation to address issues with workers' compensation for first responders with occupational cancer. (KTAR News Photo/Ali Vetnar)

PHOENIX — No ifs, ands or buts about it.

That’s the goal of new legislation introduced by state Sens. Heather Carter and Paul Boyer, who want workers’ compensation for Arizona firefighters fully protected when it comes to occupational cancer.

“It is absolutely time to stop the needless battles and provide them the benefits they rightly deserve,” Carter said during a press conference Thursday morning.

To bring awareness to the issue, Carter shaved Boyer’s head on the Capitol lawn in a sea of firefighters. Boyer plans to keep his head bald until the bill is signed into law.

The proposed legislation would amend a law passed in 2017 that allows firefighters to receive workers’ comp benefits if diagnosed with specific cancers. The new bill would add breast and ovarian cancers to the list of presumptive cancers.

It also addresses the problem of governments denying benefits to first responders.

The cities of Goodyear and Casa Grande are currently denying firefighters with cancer listed on the presumptive law.

“With this legislation, we are going to make it perfectly clear, without a doubt, that our heroes will receive the benefits they are due,” Carter said. “They will be able to spend their time fighting cancer and not fighting the government, not fighting lawyers and not fighting their high-paid experts!”

Boyer has been in this fight since 2017, when he introduced the original presumptive cancer legislation.

“We all know firefighters get cancer in the line of duty,” Boyer said. “There is overwhelming evidence, so we passed the bill to protect them, but attorneys have found loopholes to make sure these heroes don’t get their claims covered.

“We’re running legislation to make sure they can no longer deny these on-the-job injuries firefighters get while fighting fires and protecting all of us.”

Two prominent first responders who were diagnosed with cancer last year were among those on hand as the senators introduced the legislation, Professional Fire Fighters of Arizona President Bryan Jeffries and Phoenix Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner.

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