Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Wednesday night won Senate approval to add to the pending defense authorization bill his “Dale Long Act,” which will strengthen and improve a federal program that provides a crucial safety net for the families of first responders who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. The Senate vote on Leahy’s amendment was 85 to 11. The step is Leahy’s most recent effort to remedy gaps in the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act (PSOB) that have left some first responders without benefits when they are injured or killed in the line of duty.
The PSOB was first enacted in 1976, providing benefits for certain survivors of public safety officers who die or are disabled as a direct and proximate result of a personal injury sustained in the line of duty. But existing law excludes certain classes of safety officers and trainees. The Leahy bill will fill these gaps and further strengthen the program, while also making improvements to the administration of the program. The Leahy-authored legislation includes a provision to extend the federal PSOB program to paramedics and emergency medical technicians who work or volunteer for nonprofit ambulance services, and their families, when they are disabled or killed in the line of duty. Leahy’s reform effort also is supported by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Congressman Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
Leahy first introduced the Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Providers Protection Act in June 2009, naming the bill in honor of the Bennington emergency medical technician who was tragically killed in an ambulance accident. The bill would qualify an estimated 1200 Vermont EMS personnel for the PSOB program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, considered the legislation in 2010 and reported it to the Senate, but further action on the legislation stalled due to a single Republican senator’s objection. Adding the bill Wednesday during this lame duck legislative session to the must-pass defense bill is his latest effort to get past the obstacles. The House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved counterpart legislation in June of this year.
Leahy said, “First responders are flesh-and-blood lifelines to all of us, in every community across the nation. From the firefighters in Vermont who race to the scene of a rural fire during a cold winter night, to the ambulance crews bringing emergency medical help when tragedy or disaster strike, first responders lay their lives on the line through their sense of duty, their skill and their selflessness. We count on them, and they need to be able to count on us. Now that this bill is on a track for passage, it is time for the obstruction to end so that these overdue reforms can finally begin helping first responders and their families. Each day that passes is another day that Mr. Long’s family, and others who would benefit from this legislation, must live without the help they need and deserve.”