On Wednesday, May 17th, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs unanimously approved S. 829, the AFG and SAFER Program Reauthorization Act. The legislation reauthorizes the Assistance to Firefighters (AFG), the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER), and Fire Prevention and Safety (FP&S) grant programs through Fiscal Year 2023. Additionally, the legislation removes a "sunset" provision in the current authorizing statute that would eliminate the programs on January 2, 2018.
S. 829 was introduced by Senator John McCain (AZ) and Senator Jon Tester (MT), both co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. Senator Susan Collins (ME), chair of the Fire Caucus, and Senator Tom Carper, a fellow Fire Caucus co-chair, are original co-sponsors of the legislation. S. 829 will now go before the full Senate for consideration.
HOUSE HEARING SPOTLIGHTS FIRE SERVICE OCCUPATIONAL CANCER
On Wednesday, May 17th, the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Health held a hearing titled "Examining Initiatives to Advance Public Health." The hearing addressed several current pieces of legislation before the committee, including H.R. 931, the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act.
H.R. 931, introduced by Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27),directs the Center for Disease Control to create a specialized national registry to provide researchers and epidemiologists with the tools and resources they need to improve research collection activities related to the monitoring of cancer incidence among firefighters. Kevin O'Connor, Assistant to the General President for Governmental Affairs and Public Policy at the International Association of Fire Fighters, testified in favor of the bill.
"Our nation is served by approximately one million professional and volunteer fire fighters who respond to nearly 35 million calls for assistance each year. Statistics maintained by the National Fire Protection Association indicate that there are approximately two million fires or hazardous materials incidents annually, routinely placing fire fighters in environments where they will be exposed to carcinogens and toxic chemicals," Mr. O'Connor stated in his testimony. He went on further to say that the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act "will lead to a preeminent centralized data collection point that will aid in studies that we expect to result in better prevention and treatment measures for fire fighters."
Senator Robert Menendez (NJ) introduced companion legislation, S. 382, in the Senate on February 15, 2017.
CONGRESS PASSES PUBLIC SAFETY OFFICERS' BENEFITS IMPROVEMENTS ACT
This week, Congress passed legislation designed to improve the timeliness and transparency in the Justice Department's processing of the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program survivor, disability, and educational assistance claims. S. 419, the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Improvements Act, was introduced by Senator Charles Grassley (IA) on February 16, 2017. The bill will address on-going problems with the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program.
The legislation allows the PSOB office to issue rules, regulations and procedures that are based on standards developed by other federal agencies dealing with death or disability claims of public safety officers. This is in direct response to the Department of Justice's delay in adopting the World Trade Center Health Program and Victims' Compensation Fund findings associated with 9/11-related claims. Additionally, the legislation restores the "substantial weight" standard that requires the PSOB office to give substantial weight to the findings of federal, state, and local agencies as to the cause of the public safety officer's death or disability prior to the rewrite of regulations in 2005. The bill also requires the PSOB office to post a public weekly status report on claims and to make a detailed biannual report to Congress.
S. 419 was approved unanimously by the Senate on Tuesday, May 16th. The House unanimously approved the bill the following day. The legislation will now go to the White House for the President's signature.