State lawmakers on Tuesday, joined by three widows of slain Wisconsin police officers, touted a bill that would guarantee health insurance coverage for immediate survivors of officers killed on the job.
The bill, which would provide benefits already afforded to immediate survivors of Wisconsin firefighters, would require state and local governments to pay the health insurance premiums for the surviving spouse and children of law enforcement officers or emergency responders killed in the line of duty.
It’s the latest version of legislation that has existed in various forms since at least 2011 but has failed to gain traction.
The requirement would not apply to surviving spouses who remarry or reach the age of 65, or to surviving children once they reach the age of 26. Municipal and state governments, plus public universities and Marquette University, would be required to cover law enforcement officers of any kind, such as Department of Natural Resources officers. The bill would apply to the survivors of officers killed since the beginning of 2019.
Premium payments would be reimbursed from the state’s general fund.
Sponsors of the bill argue guaranteeing health insurance coverage for the spouses of law enforcement officers will give them and their families peace of mind.
“The last thing an officer needs to be worried about is whether their family will be protected by health insurance coverage if something happens to them,” said Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, a bill author who first introduced a version of the measure in 2011.
Sean Marschke, president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, said the legislation offers the families of police officers the same benefits those of firefighters receive.
“The minuscule costs of providing health insurance to the surviving family members will show these Wisconsin families that the citizens of this state do care about them,” Marschke said.
Three widows of slain Wisconsin police officers attended the bill hearing to tout the legislation: Ashley Birkholz, whose husband, Fond du Lac police officer Craig Birkholz, was killed on the job in 2011; Kara Weiland, whose husband, Everest Metropolitan Police Department detective Jason Weiland, was killed while responding to an active shooter in 2017; and Charlette Nennig, whose husband, LeRoy Nennig Jr., a lieutenant with the Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Department, was struck by a vehicle and killed in 2004.
The three widows said a health insurance guarantee would help survivors move forward with their lives after suffering the emotional turmoil of losing a loved one.
“In the weeks following the accident, I was overwhelmed with the many tasks as a result of his death, including waiting for the results of the accident, writing 500 thank-you notes, being advised I would receive his last paycheck and that I only had a few months of health insurance at the same time helping my son deal with the loss of his father,” Nennig said. “Passing (the legislation) will allow future survivors to have the needed time to take care of their families after such a loss during their darkest hours.”
After the death of her husband, Weiland took time off her job but returned to full-time work after three months to keep her insurance. Doing so, she said, wasn’t healthy for her or her children, so she cut back on hours and was forced to pay a higher health insurance premium in return.
“Finding insurance and going through all the paperwork that is required to maintain insurance is not easy,” Weiland said. “I don’t want to see another spouse or family have to go through what I have gone through.”