Thursday, March 9, 2023
SPRINGFIELD—Republican and Democratic members of The Illinois House of Representatives’ Personnel and Pensions Committee voted 9-0 Thursday for Comptroller Susana A. Mendoza’s Act of Duty bill to provide duty-disability benefits for Chicago first responders severely stricken by COVID-19 in the days before vaccines were available.
Officers killed by COVID-19 in those days are considered to have died in an “Act of Duty” under state law, so their families get full benefits. But the city of Chicago’s police pension board has been denying Act of Duty benefits to officers including Comptroller Mendoza’s brother, Chicago Police Det. Sgt. Joaquin Mendoza, who lived through the disease but were left severely disabled.
“You should not be punished for living. You should also be able to access your health care and your duty disability if you survive COVID but are unable to go back to work,” said Comptroller Mendoza. “My brother’s situation is tragic. I couldn’t even talk about it before without breaking into tears. But I hope that through that tragedy we can fix this for everyone else.”
Mendoza’s bill, HB3162, would fix state law to include that same “rebuttable presumption” of the illness being contracted by first responders in an act of duty for officers who lived through COVID as those who died.
“Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we left out the rebuttable presumption for firefighters and police officers who have become disabled as a result of exposure and contraction of COVID-19. This is unacceptable. It was an oversight, and we’re here to correct it,” said sponsor, State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea.
Comptroller Mendoza shared with the committee how her brother’s greatest passion in life was law enforcement. He had worked for 17 days straight before falling ill with COVID-19. His ICU stay resulted in the loss of both of his kidneys, and he also suffered several strokes. Even the pension board’s own physician said it was clear Det. Sgt. Mendoza would never be able to work again.
The bill now moves to the full House for a vote and then to the State Senate where Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, is the sponsor.
Chicago Police Officer Diana Cordova-Nestad described at a news conference at Chicago’s City Hall how COVID-19 had left her severely disabled after she contracted the virus on the job. The Policeman’s Annuity and Benefits Fund first denied Det. Sgt. Mendoza, then Officer Cordova-Nestad. Another 18 officers with similar situations are in the pipeline, according to lawyers who represent these officers before the board. They would all be helped by this legislation.