TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Florida firefighters won a major victory at the State Capitol Tuesday.
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They have been fighting for years to include cancer coverage as part of their benefits, but have been rebuffed over who would pay for the coverage.
Now, the Speaker of the House, who has been blocking the bill, has had a change of heart.
It was political pressure like a handful of firefighters gathering petitions outside the Capitol, calling for the House to hear the bill that seemed to have done the trick.
“Because firefighters are 14 percent more likely to come down with cancers, and there’s a long list of them,” said South Walton Firefighter Bob Wells.
The legislation firefighters are advocating for would provide $25,000 to cancer-stricken first responders to pay for out of pocket expenses such as room and travel for cancer treatments.
“All the things we’re finding out for all these years that were hazardous to us, I mean, it’s just been coming out in the last few years,” said South Walton Firefighter Dan Corcoran. "We’ve made changes, we’ve made the job as safe as you can make the job, but we’re still exposed to carcinogens and the guys who’ve been on the job for any amount of time are already exposed.”
The legislation has more than 80 House co-sponsors, but one main opponent: House Speaker Jose Oliva.
The Speaker has objected to forcing the costs on local governments. He was accused of political retribution over a past election, but the accusations gave the Speaker pause.
By mid-afternoon Tuesday, he had a change of heart.
“I think it's moved too far past the original debate and it's best to just let it go,” said Oliva.
Over the last five years, the Legislature has spent $5 million trying to figure out how to keep firefighters from getting cancer. The protections they want cost about $5 million a year.
Sponsors say firefighters today are less likely to get cancer because they’ve adopted better practices they didn’t know about even five years ago, but anyone who fought fires 10 or 15 years ago could still come down with the disease.