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Arlington, firefighters disagree on Senate Bill 6213

 


Officials from Arlington’s firefighters union are disappointed after a bill that would have given greater coverage for some health risks was lobbied against by an Arlington representative.

Senate Bill 6213 would have added a number of cancers that are presumed to be covered by workers compensation for firefighters and would have provided some other additional health benefits for law enforcement officers as well.

These types of cancers are already covered by Labor and Industries, however the bill would have shifted the presumptive burden away from the individual to show that the cancer was caused by the employment.

“First and foremost the illnesses are already covered under our state’s current L&I system,” said Kristin Banfield, communications manager and city clerk with the city of Arlington.

If not covered by workers compensation, city employees also have standard health coverage as well, said Banfield.

The bill passed in the Senate 46 to 1 on Feb. 13. However, as the Washington state legislative session is coming to a close the bill was shelved in a house of representatives committee.

Firefighters face an increased risk of cancer and are 14 percent more likely to die from cancer, according to a 2010 National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health report.

For some types of cancer the chance that a firefighter is diagnosed is much higher, such as mesothelioma which firefighters get about twice as often compared to the general population.

“Our firefighters have been exposed to asbestos in the past,” said Greg Koontz, president of IAFF Local 3728 (the union for firefighters of the Arlington Fire Department).

In incidents involving training about four years ago and around a decade ago there was exposure, he said.

This is why the union is against certain types of firefighter training where asbestos exposure can occur, said Koontz.

Women firefighters also face higher chance of being diagnosed with some cancers, which would have been covered by the bill.

“Cervical and breast cancer is also a big deal for our female firefighters,” said Koontz. “They face a much higher risk than the normal population for those type of cancers."

A lobbyist who represented the City of Marysville and Arlington did not testify on the senate floor but did attend Olympia committee meetings in opposition to the bill.

Connie Mennie, communications administrator for the City of Marysville, said that the city’s position has recently switched to support of the bill.

Banfield said the city of Arlington mainly had problems with the specifics of the bill.

“The biggest concern for us was in the change to the presumption … it would be automatically assumed that the cancer came from the work environment,” Banfield said.

Jurisdictions would have been presumed to have caused the cancer and would likely face higher workers compensation fees as a result.

“There could be other exposures … many of our firefighters are part-time and work in other jurisdictions for example,” said Banfield.

“We want to make sure there is a review process available, and after that if the problem was ours we’ll cover the costs,” she said.

She said later drafts of the bill did contain potential review processes and that the city is keeping an open dialogue with its employees.

“We will continue to review it and work with our employees to understand their concerns and see if there are any new data or updates about how the bill is constructed,” she said.

Koontz said that the city directly lobbying against the bill was “discouraging.”

“From a certain perspective it is understandable because there will be a cost to it,” he said, however he said the Association of Washington Cities, which Arlington is a part of, was already arguing against the bill.

“So to spend tax dollars in addition to that to go against the bill doesn’t seem like a good use of tax money,” he said.

Banfield said although the bill will not be passed this legislative session, it is not dead.

“The bill is likely to be introduced in the next session,” she said.

She hopes that the local firefighters and the city will be able to support a bill with a review process.

“We are having open dialogue with our employees,” she said.

 

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