More than 100 first responders in Texas have died of COVID-19 complications during the ongoing pandemic, and action taken this week in Austin could soon officially categorize theirs as "line of duty deaths."
Senate Bill 22 would treat COVID-19 as what is known as a presumptive illness for first responders, including police officers, firefighters and paramedics. The term indicates that it is presumed that the condition, in this case, the coronavirus, developed as a direct result of the person’s service.
If COVID-19 were ultimately categorized as a presumptive illness, that would unlock certain compensation benefits for the families of the first responders.
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"One hundred families have lost their loved ones, so they have no way to claim that it was an in line-of-duty death unless we pass this legislation right here," said Charley Wilkison, Executive Director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), an organization that has lobbied for this designation since early on during the pandemic.
The United States military recognizes several medical conditions as presumed to be caused by their service, and there have been similar efforts to designate certain cancers and other conditions as presumed to be caused by the service of firefighters in Texas and in other states.
Senate Bill 22 passed the Texas House of Representatives by a wide margin, 139 to 6. Those who voted against the measure stressed that in some cases it may be difficult to prove the specific connection between the first responder’s service and their exposure to COVID-19.