The Arizona House of Representatives committee in charge of public safety will hold a special meeting September 17 to discuss the state's role, if any, in providing catastrophic insurance coverage for uninsured Hot Shot firefighters. Nineteen firefighters died June 30 in the Yarnell Hill fire, of whom 13 did not have coverage because they were classified as part-time or seasonal employees.
House Speaker Andy Tobin (R-District 1) has drafted a language for a bill that would provide a full relief package to survivors of First Responders who die in the line of duty. The bill, which will not be formally proposed until the Legislature reconvenes in January or sooner if the Governor calls for a special session.
The committee agenda will follow Tobin's listed priorities, which include reimbursing First Responder expenses connected to the fire, provide financial assistance to the Yarnell community, and cover Prescott's liabilities for death benefits due to the families of the six firefighters who were classified as full-time employees. Benefits are paid out by the state's Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS)
Moreover, Tobin's bill would also cover death benefits for the 13 part-time firefighters who died June 30. It would allow part-time First Responders to participate in PSPRS benefits, and require the agency to purchase catastrophic insurance to cover future disaster-related liabilities.
Tobin is well-versed in insurance; he has been licensed by the Arizona Department of Insurance to provide insurance brokerage services and once owned a Farmers Insurance agency. His embrace of public servants may be a new trend, according to historic data in Project Vote Smart:
- In 2008, Tobin supported a bill for a state employment hiring freeze (it was vetoed by then-Governor Janet Napolitano).
- In 2009, Tobin voted for legislation that cut $1.35 million from the Department of Emergency and Military Affair, which oversees First Responder actions.
He did, however, support a failed bill last year that would have appropriate a modest amount of funds ($1.5 million) for forest restoration.
Tobin lives in Pauldin, near Prescott, which abuts national forest lands. Somewhat curiously, he voted to de-regulate the sale of fireworks in 2010, which some firefighter organizations opposed.
Last month, the Obama Administration rejected Gov. Brewer's request for federal emergency funds for Yarnell.