PHOENIX - Spurred by the pleas of a widow of a Department of Public Safety officer, Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation Friday to ensure survivors of police officers and others who die in the line of duty have taxpayer-provided health insurance for as long as they need.
The measure, which took effect immediately on Brewer's signature, says spouses are entitled to coverage until they remarry, become Medicare-eligible or die. And any children also are insured until they are 18, or 23 if in school.
It also provides the same benefits for the survivors of firefighters and correctional officers.
The law stems from the experiences of Angela Harrolle, whose husband, Bruce, was an officer and paramedic for DPS. He was killed in 2008 by helicopter blades while on a search-and-rescue mission.
Angela Harrolle said she was not prepared for what came next.
"While we were in shock and attempting to plan the funeral in what could be described as a pretty numb state, we received another verbal strike," she said Friday.
"Three days after Bruce's death, before the funeral had even happened, we were told that our health-insurance coverage had been terminated," she explained.
Her story persuaded lawmakers in 2010 to provide a one-year extension of benefits to fallen police officers. This new measure eliminates that end date, while expanding the law to identify other public employees eligible for the same coverage.
Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, said they all deserve the same treatment.
"They run into burning buildings if they're firefighters," he said.
"Police officers, believe it or not, even in a routine traffic stop could lose their life in an instant," Robson continued. "Correctional officers have to deal in some cases with the worst of the worst in their system."
The governor credited Angela Harrolle with pushing lawmakers into making the changes. Harrolle, in turn, said she was driven by her experiences, starting with that phone call.
"I vowed that day to do everything in my power to make a change so that other families didn't have to hear those same words," she said. And she credited Brewer with signing the first measure in 2010.
"But you recognized that families needed more, a lot more," Harrolle said.