Op-Ed –Protecting Those Who Protect Us

This past week, Pennsylvania law enforcement experienced its first loss related to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) with the passing of Lt. James Walker, a 32-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department, who succumbed to the effects of the virus.  My heart goes out to Lt. Walker’s family and colleagues during this extremely difficult time. Additionally, my mind is on the other 52 Philadelphia officers that have tested positive for COVID-19 and the dozens more that are self-quarantining, as well as the many other law enforcement officers across the Commonwealth that have contracted this invisible enemy.

But thinking about these fine men and women who, along with thousands of other first responders are risking exposure every day, is not enough.  They continue to interact with the public 24/7 in order to protect the lives of all Pennsylvanians without any protection of their salary and benefits, should they contract the virus and be required to stop working.

That is why this week in the Pennsylvania Senate I introduced legislation, Senate Bill 1106, to address this issue and ensure that those who are protecting us are protected as well. 

Specifically, this legislation amends what is known as the Pennsylvania Heart and Lung Act to guarantee an officer is provided their full salary and benefits if they must miss work for any COVID-19 related issue, whether it be to get tested, to self-quarantine, or if they contract the virus.

The bill requires municipalities to pay no more or less in compensation or medical expenses than current law provides, while limiting the measure to the duration of the Governor’s Public Health Declaration. 

This legislation builds on the original intent of the Heart and Lung Act, signed into law on June 28, 1935, which recognizes the need to continue payment of salary, medical, and hospital expenses of officers who are injured or contract certain diseases in the line of duty.

As it did then, and as it does now, this Act sends a clear message that the residents of this Commonwealth have the backs of the men and women who put their lives on the line to serve and protect others.

There is no doubt that during this uncertain time for all of us, if we dial 9-1-1 the expectation is for that call to be answered – whether it is a medical emergency, a vehicle accident, or to report a crime.  And our first responders don’t ever hesitate when such a call comes in – not during bad weather and certainly not during a national pandemic. However, they are human, and we must acknowledge that they do not have a choice, like many of us do, to stay-at-home and only make necessary trips to the grocery store and pharmacy. Therefore, just as our health care providers are exposed every day, so are our law enforcement officers answering the call of duty to serve and protect their neighbors.

That is why this amendment to the Heart and Lung Act is so important for the officers across Pennsylvania’s nearly 1,100 unique police departments that find themselves navigating the unknowns amid the COVID-19 crisis. 

On April 7th, the Senate Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, which I have the honor of chairing, unanimously approved this measure, which now goes before the full Senate for consideration.  I am very hopeful that with 27 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, the legislation will see further swift action as we in the Pennsylvania
Senate do the best we can to address the many issues that continue to arise during this unprecedented situation.

While these are uncertain times, making certain we provide protections to those that protect us is paramount as we work together to fight this virus in our communities, the Commonwealth and across the nation.


CONTACT: Bruce McLanahan, bmclanahan@pasen.gov

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