Bill to extend benefits for families of fallen officers moves forward in Alabama Legislature

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WKRG) - A bill extending benefits for families of first responders killed in the line of duty passed the Alabama House of Representatives this week.

The bill would expand the benefits given to the spouse and children of a law enforcement officer or firefighter killed while on the job.

"I think that's the least that we could do in Alabama is make sure that their loved ones being their wives, husbands, and children are taken care of," said Representative Barbara Drummond of Mobile.

Currently in Alabama, workers compensation benefits to the surviving dependent child end when the child turns 18 or after 500 weeks, whichever comes first. 500 weeks is just under 10 years.

"I think that's totally unreasonable because these people have given their lives for our community, for our state and I really think that we need to safeguard the well-being of those children," said Rep. Drummond.

House Bill 192 would provide worker compensation benefits for children until they reach the age of 18.

Current law also states that benefits to the surviving spouse of a law enforcement officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty end when the spouse remarries or after 500 weeks, whichever comes first. House Bill 192 would allow the spouse to receive benefits through 500 weeks, regardless of whether they remarry.

The bill now moves to the Alabama Senate for further consideration.

If the bill goes on to pass as currently written, it would not include current cases. It would only be applicable to deaths that happened after the law goes into effect. 

That means Mobile Police Officer Justin Billa's family would not be eligible for the extended benefits. Workers compensation benefits for his one-year-old son would end when the child is about 11 years old.

"You vote on something on Tuesday and when you wake up Wednesday morning you learn that one of our own Mobile Police officers was killed in the line of duty," said Representative Margie Wilcox of Mobile. "It's just heart-wrenching."

Amendments to the bill could be added when it is brought up in the Alabama Senate.

"If that's something the Senate could do and make it effective for him, I would certainly be in favor of that," said Representative Margie Wilcox.

Representative Drummond told News 5 she has spoken with the bill's sponsor and there appears to be enough support in the Alabama Senate to add an amendment that would make the bill retroactive to include Officer Billa's family.

Our local lawmakers up in Jackson tell News 5 they are praying for Officer Billa's family.

"Mobile knows the value of having a valiant officer standing in the gap," said Rep. Drummond. So, this is really tragic for our community, but I know that we hold this young man in such esteem. We really, really, really grieve right now along with his family."

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