Thursday, September 29, 2022
Marion – Surrounded by sheriffs, chiefs of police and fire chiefs from all over Southern Illinois and families of fallen first responders, Illinois Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza Thursday introduced a bill to make sure families of fallen law enforcement and armed-forces members won’t have to wait for state payments.
The state’s Line of Duty Compensation Act provides benefits for the families of law enforcement officers, members of the armed forces, firemen, paramedics and other first responders killed in the line of duty.
However, the appropriations for these benefits can sometimes run out before the end of a fiscal year, requiring the state legislature to reconvene and approve supplemental appropriations. That needlessly costs families time when they require and deserve support the most urgently.
HB 5785 aims to ensure timely compensation for the next of kin of first responders and armed-forces members who die in the line of duty. This measure aims to ensure a continuing line of appropriation so that there is no delay to the families.
“On behalf of the Sheriffs of Illinois I want to commend Comptroller Mendoza and the sponsors of this bill for their leadership in making sure devastated families have access to these resources. These officers and their families have made the greatest sacrifice for all of us, and this is something that will assist them in their time of need,” said Jim Kaitschuk, Executive Director of the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association.
Comptroller Mendoza first heard of the need for the legislation during the annual Illinois Police Officers Memorial this May in Springfield, where 11 fallen officers were honored and remembered.
The mother of one of the officers told the Comptroller her family was still waiting for benefits. Tammy Pierce lost her son Brian Pierce Jr. – a police officer for the Illinois Brooklyn Police Department – in August 2021. In December 2021, the family suffered a house fire. The compensation was greatly needed but delayed due to a lack of sufficient appropriations available.
Brian Pierce Jr. of Carbondale was only 24 years old when he was struck and killed by a vehicle being driven by a fleeing suspect.
“He wasn't married, he didn’t have children. So that placed my husband and I as his next of kin. But in a lot of circumstances these police officers are married – they do have tiny little children when they’re killed,” Tammy Pierce said at Thursday’s news conference at the Williamson County Administration Building.
Pierce told the attendees of the press conference she is especially worried about the spouses and children left behind. She called the compensation a form of stress relief. “It’s nice to know that the state of Illinois has taken into consideration that their families matter to them. I know these officers standing behind me today, I know that when they go out the door, they know that we are going to take care of their families if something happened to them, God forbid.”
“State officials should never lapse in their commitment to these first responders, armed-service members and their families. We must show their lives are valuable not just through our words, but through our actions,” said Comptroller Mendoza.
“The families of loved ones who lose their lives in the line of duty experience incredible heartbreak. The compensation they receive to help them through that difficult time should never be delayed while they wait for the legislature to take additional action,” said Chuck Sullivan, President of the Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois (AFFI). “HB 5785 will help make sure that Illinois never breaks or delays its promise to the families of our fallen heroes.”
On behalf of law enforcement officers throughout Illinois, the Coalition of Frontline Police Officers (CFPO) also offers strong endorsement of HB 5785 and urges the Illinois General Assembly to pass it without delay.
“With the enactment of HB 5785 our state’s first responder families will be protected in event of a tragedy. Thank you, Comptroller Mendoza for your strident advocacy on behalf of our public safety heroes and thank you to Representatives Dave Vella, Fran Hurley, Jay Hoffman, Lance Yednock, Michael Kelly, Bob Morgan, Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, Larry Walsh, Jr., LaToya Greenwood, Fred Crespo, Katie Stuart, Natalie Manley, and Kelly Burke. Like our fallen heroes – your support for our families will not be forgotten,” said Sean M. Smoot, Chairman of CFPO and Director and Chief Counsel for the Illinois Police Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois.
“We count on our first responders to be there for us in our greatest time of need, and when we lose one in service, we have to step up as a state and support their family in their most difficult time,” State Rep. Dave Vella, D-Rockford, the chief sponsor of the bill, said. “Under our current law, we have seen families be forced to wait for financial support from the state because money ran out. It’s inexcusable that this situation can even occur, which is why we’re taking action today to make funding for this critical support a continuing appropriation.”
“While none of us knows our expiration date, what we do know is first responders and public-safety officers are at a greater risk, because they put themselves in harm’s way to protect us. But that’s what heroes do,” said State Sen. Christopher Belt, D-Swansea, who is sponsoring a companion bill in the Senate, SB 4229. “Public-safety officers and first responders have done so much to protect their communities and it is our responsibility as lawmakers and policy makers to make sure that those surviving family members receive timely financial protection as a standard practice.”
The measure has bipartisan support. State Sen. Dale Fowler, R-Harrisburg, a co-sponsor of the legislation said. “No matter how many fallen heroes we lose, these families are going to be provided for,” said Sen. Fowler. “When a first responder walks out the door to go to work, they walk out of the door believing that if they don't come home, their families will be provided for. And unfortunately, without this legislation, that wasn't the case.”
Fowler, Mendoza and Belt pledged to work to get every single Democratic and Republican legislator supporting the bill during the Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session.
“When first responders fall, the last thing families need is bureaucracy and red tape getting in the way when they’re trying to deal with such a tragic loss and trying to pick up the pieces along the way. This legislation will do exactly that. It will cut the red tape, take care of all the families of all our fallen brothers and sisters. I ask everyone to come forward and pledge your support,” said Jefferson County Sheriff Jeff Bullard.
“Families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice should never have to worry about how they are going to put food on the table as they grieve their loved ones. I call on the legislature to pass this bill as quickly as possible. Let us honor fallen first responders and armed-forces members by limiting the suffering of the families they leave behind,” said Comptroller Mendoza. “These guys here have our backs every day, thank you. And we’re going to have yours and your families’.”
Some of the attendees of the press conference and proponents of HB 5785 included: