Texas cops are putting pressure on Gov. Greg Abbott to sign an order that guarantees their death benefits will be paid if they die from coronavirus, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
“All first responders — they can’t stay home,” Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, told the newspaper. “They can’t shelter in place. They have to go out.”
Wilkison said nine Texas law enforcement officers have died in the pandemic. Only one was a CLEAT member. Law enforcement officials have been pushing the governor to sign a law that protects officers if they become sick with the virus while working.
Wilkison said CLEAT will take the issue to lawmakers in the spring legislative session if necessary.
“A police officer who contracts COVID-19 on the job would be eligible for $500,000 in death benefits,” John Wittman, an Abbott spokesman, said.
Lawmakers have already been pushing Abbott to put legislation in place.
“I pray that no first responder will die in Texas due to COVID-19, but if they do, they should receive full honors and benefits, as any other line of duty death,” Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, wrote to Abbott on April 23.
“An executive order will bring swift clarification and provide our first responders with much-needed protection in the event they are diagnosed with COVID-19,” Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, also wrote April 23. “It is critical that we ensure our first responders are covered in regard to line of duty deaths.”
Abbott’s office issued a statement in March stating he had “waived certain statutory provisions to ensure public safety employees who contract COVID-19 during the course of their employment will be reimbursed for reasonable medical expenses related to their treatment of COVID-19.”
“These brave men and women are on the front lines and risking potential exposure to keep our communities safe,” Abbott said.
But CLEAT members and others say the order doesn’t provide enough of a guarantee.
“We aren’t quite sure the governor has gone far enough, but we will certainly fight this fight when and if it comes,” said Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, which represents 29,000 first responders.
“Words and guarantees and promises are one thing, but the marriage license matters. And so in this case, we want it on a piece of paper, Governor,” Wilkison said.
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