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More medical benefits possible for families of fallen state employees

State troopers' families included in Senate bill

Families of fallen state employees...

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - A news conference at the state Capitol in Denver on Thursday focused on extending medical benefits for the families of state employees who are killed while on duty.

According to organizers, such families often are left without medical coverage after medical benefits of the deceased expire at the end of the month of their deaths.

In some cases, organizers said, affected workers have died near the end of a month and families lose medical coverage in a matter of days.

Two lawmakers are sponsoring Senate Bill 18-148, in which the state would pay to extend medical coverage from the current one month or less to one year.

The bill was expected to be introduced Thursday afternoon at a meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

It comes after the deaths of three Colorado deputies -- in Douglas, Adams and El Paso counties -- since New Year's Eve.

Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Adams County, is a co-sponsor of the bill and said the process to craft the bill started before the recent deaths of the deputies.

"What I hope to introduce later in this session is similar legislation for local police officers and county deputies," he said.  "We have 64 counties in Colorado and they all handle death benefits differently.  We're going to be looking into how they do it, and how we can improve that service to those families."

Moreno said that, because so few state employees die while on duty, the state would likely need to pay no more than $70,000 to extend coverage for families.

Some lawmakers said they support any effort to provide similar benefits to other law enforcement officers but they question how it would work.

"We've already done things such as strengthened penalties for anyone who shoots an officer and we've provided more funding for equipment," said Rep. Tony Exum Sr., D-Colorado Springs.  "But we need to continue the conversation with law enforcement about how we can help them do their job better."

"To sit here and say we should do this or that, I don't know," said Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-El Paso County.

Such legislation would have helped Velma Donahue, the widow of Trooper Cody Donahue, and her family. The trooper was killed in late 2016 after being struck by a passing driver.

"Six days after he was killed and before we had his funeral, my daughter got sick," Velma Donahue said.  I took her to the doctor and was told, after 11 years, that I had no medical insurance.  I felt like I was punched in the gut."

The bill's sponsors said troopers and Colorado Department of Transportation workers could most benefit because they are often close to traffic and at greater risk of injury or death.

The proposed legislation also covers the families of state officials, such as former state corrections chief Tom Clements, who was murdered at his Monument home nearly five years ago.

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