Monday, Feb. 27, 2023

ROMEOVILLE—Illinois Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza stood with law enforcement and area leaders at Romeoville’s Village Hall Monday seeking support for a bill to ensure timely payments for the families of law enforcement officers, members of the armed forces, firemen, paramedics and other first responders killed in the line of duty.   


SB 217/HB 3388 aims to ensure a continuing line of appropriation so that there is no delay for the families.  


“Going back to the police memorial this past spring, I was approached by the family of fallen Officer Brian Pierce. Tammy and Brian Pierce asked me for my help in checking on the award payments afforded to families of first responders who die in the line of duty,” Comptroller Mendoza said. 


Currently, the Line of Duty Compensation Act provides for a death benefit for claims filed within one year of the death of a law enforcement officer, civil defense worker, civil air patrol member, paramedic, fireman, chaplain, or State employee killed in the line of duty or for claims filed within two years of the death of an armed-forces member. The Line of Duty Compensation Act also provides a burial benefit for fallen law enforcement and firefighters killed in the line of duty.   


The total number of claims for the Fiscal Year 2022 was 26, which was 13 more claims than had been budgeted for.   


While waiting for the approval of supplemental appropriations, Brian Pierce Jr.’s family was delayed in receiving their son’s line of duty death benefit because of a lack of appropriation authority. Upon further meetings with the family to hear out their concerns, Comptroller Mendoza pledged to help change the way these funds are appropriated. 


“I really knew I had to fix this from ever happening again. That is why I’ve asked State Rep. Dave Vella and Sen. Chris Belt to introduce legislation, House Bill 3388 and Senate Bill 217, that would allow these vouchers to come to my office so that I can pay them without any delay,” said Comptroller Mendoza. 


“Every day I’m reminded, and I see the amazing heroicness, generosity and compassion people have, and we should share it back to them,” Romeoville Mayor John Noak said about first responders. 


Debbie Wiseman, president of the Illinois chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S), became a member of that group after her brother was killed in the line of duty in 2011. The organization supports all legislation that benefits the family and next of kin of fallen police officers and Illinois C.O.P.S has stood in support of SB 217/HB 3388 since the measure was first introduced last year. 


When Illinois C.O.P.S hears of the death of a police officer, members “will respond within hours ... we help plan a funeral to make sure that officer is honored and to make sure the families are taken care of from that point on,” said Wiseman. 


“First Responders put their lives on the line every day to protect our families,” said House Assistant Majority Leader and State Rep. Natalie Manley, D-Joliet. “We must do everything we can to support their families when they no longer can do so.”  


State Rep. Dagmara Avelar, D-Bolingbrook, was also at the Romeoville Village Hall to speak in support of the legislation. She said elected officials should always be considering how to “honor our first responders every single day – what we’re doing today is one of those things.”  


“During my career, I found that my family is every bit as affected by me being a police officer as I am. Since day one, it has been a team effort with my family. I can't imagine the devastation families feel when they lose their first responders,” said Kenneth Kroll, Romeoville Police Chief. “I want to thank Comptroller Mendoza and our leaders in Illinois; several of whom are here today to support first responders and the families of our first responders.” 


State Rep. Harry Benton, D-Plainfield, said first responders must make many sacrifices with family so they can best protect and serve the public – missing holidays and their children’s school events. “We need to make sure that we’re taking care of their families as well if they make the ultimate sacrifice, and make sure that they’re not wrapped up in red tape when they lose a loved one,” said Rep. Benton.  


Tracy Chapman, Chief of Police of the Forest Preserve District of Will County, and Vice President of the Police Chiefs Association of Will County, spoke on behalf of the association. “The Association supports Senate Bill 217,” Chief Chapman said. “No monetary compensation the families receive will ever be enough to replace their loved ones, but it can assist them during the terrible experience, and lessen the financial burden as they grieve and try to begin the process of healing.” 


“I call on the legislature to pass this bill as quickly as possible,” said Comptroller Mendoza. “Let us honor fallen first responders and armed-service members by limiting the suffering of the families they leave behind.” 


The Illinois Office of Communication & Information has posted audio here, and video here