HELENA (AP) — Gov. Steve Bullock signed Senate Bill 160 on April 18, legislation that takes aim at obstacles firefighters face in receiving workers’ compensation for cancer and other occupational diseases.
The bill signing ends a 20-year fight for firefighters’ workers’ compensation claims to be presumed valid if they’ve served a certain number of years.
Under the new law, insurers can only deny a claim if they prove that a firefighter wasn’t exposed to enough smoke or particles to have caused the illness.
The law takes effect July 1. Montana was only one of a handful of states without a so-called “presumptive law.”
“Today every firefighter should know Montana has your back and it’s about damn time,” Bullock said during a signing ceremony outside the state Capitol.
Presumptive diseases are defined in the bill as those contracted through work. They include myocardial infarction, colorectal cancer, mesothelioma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cancers of the esophagus, brain, lung and breast.
A firefighter must have between four and 15 years of service, depending on the illness, since 2014 for a claim to qualify under the new law.
Firefighters in dress uniform traveled from all around the state to witness the signing. Also in attendance was the family of Jason Baker, a Great Falls Fire Department engineer who died in February of stage 4 lung cancer.
Baker had become a rallying cry by supporters of a similar bill in the 2017 session that failed.
His wife, Jill Baker, said in a statement that her husband’s legacy will be his advocacy for improving firefighters’ health and safety.
“Jason’s legacy will be remembered through his tireless advocacy of health and safety coverage for his brothers and sisters in the fire service,” she said, adding it was gratifying to have the bipartisan bill signed by Bullock.