MADISON — The death of Racine Police Officer John Hetland on June 17 marked five police officer deaths in Wisconsin in just more than a year, and proposed legislation is geared at taking care of the families of fallen officers.
Senate Bill 266 and Assembly Bill 300, which were introduced on June 7, would provide insurance to the spouses and children of officers who have died on the line of duty.
Sturtevant Police Chief Sean Marschke, who is president of the Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, said it’s time for public officials to show their commitment to law enforcement.
“We are asking the Wisconsin Legislature to support those who give the ultimate sacrifice to keep our communities safe and our loved ones secure,” Marschke said in a statement. “This bill will give the families of fallen officers the same protections of those in the military and in firefighting. It is the right thing to do and the right time to do it.”
The bills are bipartisan with the Senate bill co-authored by Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, and Janet Bewley, D-Mason.
Wanggaard said the bill would only apply to officers who lose their life responding to an emergency, and the bill could be modified to apply retroactively to the beginning of 2019, so the families of the fallen officers in Milwaukee and Hetland’s family could be compensated.
“It’s difficult for the family to cope with everything that they’re dealing with but then to also lose your health care on top of that is a challenge, too,” Wanggaard said.
If passed, the insurance would be paid for by the police and fire fee on phone bills.
According to the state Department of Revenue, the police and fire fee collects about $52 million annually.
In the current system, Wanggaard said that fee is distributed to municipalities through shared revenue and it is up to the municipalities to decide if they want to use that money for their local police and fire departments or for some other use.
“Thank God we don’t lose as many officers as some states do … we have been really blessed that we haven’t had a lot (of officer deaths),” Wanggaard said. “Now we’ve got four (deaths) in Milwaukee in less than a year under different circumstances, of course we just had Officer Hetland die here.”
Wanggaard added that some larger departments have policies that provide insurance to families if a loved one is killed in the line of duty, but many smaller departments do not have such an arrangement.
“If we lose an officer from a smaller department, that’s still a loss to the state,” Wanggaard said.
The bill is still in the committee process having just recently been read for the first time in the state Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety and the Assembly Committee on Insurance.