JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate on Wednesday approved a House proposal to guarantee health-insurance coverage for surviving family members of police and firefighters killed on the job — but not before setting new time limits on the legislation.
But the Senate's Republican majority, in creating its substitute version of House Bill 23, added a new 10-year cap on health coverage for surviving spouses, unless the spouse has children — in which case eligibility can continue until the youngest child turns 26 or gets other major medical coverage.
The Senate included the time limit after reviewing other states' policies, according to North Pole Republican Sen. John Coghill, who carried the legislation in Wednesday's floor debate. He cited the state's budget crisis along with uncertainty about the future costs of providing health insurance for surviving family members.
Another Senate change removes a section from the House bill that would require cities and other municipalities to guarantee coverage, making it optional instead. The state would have paid half the cost for municipalities with fewer than 10,000 people.
The Senate vote for HB 23, sponsored by Anchorage Democratic Rep. Andy Josephson, was 19-0. The House approved its own version unanimously last month.
Josephson said he would recommend — with a little bit of heartburn — that the House accept the Senate's proposal as-is, rather than create a conference committee and open negotiations between the two chambers over the differences.
He described the Senate's bill as a "significant step forward" that comes after a three-year push from advocates for the legislation.
"It gives security to real people," Josephson said.
In a prepared statement, Coghill said he's "glad to see the House and Senate have found a way to move this forward."