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Plan To Help Families Of Police Killed On The Job Gets Emotional Hearing

Proposal Would Extend Health Coverage, Offer Loans To Families

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Lawmakers heard emotional testimony Wednesday at the state Capitol in favor of a bill that aims to help families of police officers who die while on the job.

The proposal would continue health coverage for a spouse and children if an officer dies in line of duty, until a spouse either reaches age 65 or remarries. In addition, the bill offers loans to help families when paychecks stop.

Sen. Van Wanggaard — a former Racine police officer and the bill’s author — said that the loans would be equal to the salary that would have been paid to the officer.

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“This will help families bridge any financial gap that may occur after the tragic event,” said Wanggaard.

Jim Palmer, who represents the state’s police association, said it can take a while to get death benefits, and said there should be a safety net for families left behind similar to what firefighters have.

“It really shouldn’t be the case that officers have to pass a hat and have a fundraiser and a bake sale to provide for the loved ones of someone who has died,” said Palmer.

The Wisconsin County Deputy Sheriff’s Association has also come out in favor of the bill. The executive director of the group, David Graves, told lawmakers that the measure “supports those who support us,”

The widow of a fallen officer also testified at the hearing. Charlotte Nennig was married to Sheboygan County Sheriff’s lieutenant LeRoy Nennig, who was killed in 2004 when a car hit his motorcycle while he was responding to a car fire. She told lawmakers she had trouble getting benefits from Sheboygan County after her husband’s death.

“I had to take my county to court,” she said. “The national government found he died in line of duty. Counties don’t necessarily just pay because it’s on paper (that he died in line of duty.) They find ways of not making that payment.”

She added: “It’s been hell for the last 11 years. I can’t even describe it.”

The bill is opposed by the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Wanggaard’s bill also includes support for emergency medical technicians, and would update existing protections for firefighters.

The senator introduced a similar bill in 2011 but it didn’t get traction. Fiscal estimates for that bill ranged from $500,000 to $1 million over 15 years.