Attorney General Morrisey Urges Passage of Legislation to Safeguard First Responders

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey joined a bipartisan coalition of 52 state and territory attorneys general in urging Congress to pass legislation to provide benefits for families of first responders who may have contracted COVID-19 while on the job. 

   The coalition wrote to U.S. House leaders Thursday urging Congress to enact Senate Bill 3607, better known as the Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act.

   “Our public safety officers risk their lives every day to keep us safe. But the COVID-19 pandemic has made their sacrifice clearer,” Attorney General Morrisey joined in writing. “As public safety officers in our states have battled the COVID-19 pandemic, they have put themselves at risk while most Americans were able to stay home.” 

   The SAFR Act would permit the families of first responders who die or are permanently and totally disabled as a result of COVID-19 to receive the same federal benefits extended to first responders, or their survivors, otherwise killed or injured in the line of duty.

   The SAFR Act would establish a temporary presumption that COVID-19 infections will be considered to be contracted while on duty if diagnosed 

within 45 days of an officer’s last shift. The legislation ensures that families of officers and first responders lost while fighting the pandemic do not face unnecessary barriers to benefits, they have already been promised. 

   The U.S. Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers Benefits Program currently provides death benefits to survivors of police officers and first responders who perish in the line of duty or as the result of a work-related event, however, it requires evidence linking deaths caused by an infectious disease to work-related activity. 

   Determining where and when someone contracts COVID-19 amidst a global pandemic presents a unique challenge.

   West Virginia joined the Florida- and Washington, D.C.-led letter along with the attorneys general from Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.