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North Dakota backs health care for fallen officers’ families

April 19, 2021 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed bipartisan legislation Monday that will cover the cost of health insurance for the surviving spouses and children of emergency responders killed in the line of duty.

The bill, sponsored by Grand Forks Democrat Rep. Zac Ista, covers law enforcement, corrections officers, firefighters and other public-employed emergency workers. Ista said 17 other states, including neighboring Minnesota, offer similar benefits to surviving families.

“Try as we might, there are no laws we can pass to eliminate entirely the risks that these heroes face every day in service to their communities,” said Ista, a freshman lawmaker and attorney. “But what we can do is honor this service and honor this sacrifice by making sure we take care of the families our fallen heroes leave behind when tragedy does strike.”

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The legislation is retroactive to 2010.

Burgum, surrounded by emergency workers, law enforcement officers, state officials and lawmakers, signed the bill during a ceremony at the state Capitol. The Republican governor said five law enforcement officers have died in the line of duty in the past decade, and more than 60 have been killed since statehood.

The legislation “serves as that ultimate expression of gratitude for the service of an emergency responder who falls in the line of duty,” Burgum said. “It also serves as gratitude to the families of those responders. It specifically acknowledges that the jobs that they do require a special kind of courage, the kind of courage it takes to run toward danger when others are running away from it.”

Burgum, Ista and Grand Forks Police Chief Mark Nelson in emotional remarks also honored slain police officer Cody Holte, who was killed last year shot while officers served eviction papers at an apartment in Grand Forks. The 29-year-old is survived by his wife, Mandy, and infant son.

Mandy Holte was present at the bill signing.

The legislation covers a surviving spouse until the age of 65, until the health benefits are acquired from another source. Dependent children are covered until the age of 26, or until other health benefits are obtained elsewhere.

The measure’s fiscal note estimates the cost of the health care to surviving family members from the five fallen officers in the past decade to be about $105,000 annually, which would be paid through a 55 cent monthly increases on existing health insurance premiums.