Governor Sean Parnell has directed the Department of Public Safety to extend the medical benefits for the families of Trooper Gabe Rich and Sergeant Scott Johnson, the two troopers killed in Tanana on May 1. Under state law, benefits eventually expire for survivors of a public safety employee who is killed in the line of duty.
Health insurance for the Johnson and Rich families would have expired June 1.
Governor Parnell calls the issue a "troubling gap in state law"- one that he says he was not aware of until recently.
"I wish it had been raised to my attention sooner and I wish we would have dealt with it sooner, but at this point I took immediate and direct action to make sure these four families in the Department of Public Safety community are covered for the next year," said Parnell.
In a memorandum to DPS commissioner Gary Folger, he also requested an extension of health benefits for the survivors of Trooper Tage Toll and DPS pilot Mel Nading who were both killed in a Helo 1 crash in March 2013.
The coverage will last through the end of the next fiscal year, said Parnell. He added that he intends to file legislation to address the situation next session.
"It does implicate more than just four families. And it implicates the discussion of other employees who lose their lives on the job," said Gov. Parnell.
"We're happy that the governor has taken this action and the families are going to be insured until something can be done legislatively," said Jake Metcalfe, executive director of the Public Safety Employees Association, the union that represents troopers and municipal police around the state. Metcalfe said unless there is a permanent fix, the "gap" could have far-reaching impacts- possibly deterring potential public safety employees from seeking a career in that field.
"We fear it would be much more difficult for recruitment of troopers and local police unless there is a safety net for their families because of the fact that they do a very dangerous job," Metcalfe said.
State Sen. Bill Wielechowski said on Friday that he intends to introduce legislation in January that would protect the benefits of any public employee who dies on the job, under the worker's compensation system.
"It's just a gap that exists in our law that has never been taken care of and I think this is an opportunity for us to do that," said Wielechowski.
According to the Governor's office, the cost of extending the benefits for the next year is $80,000, about $20,000 per family.