By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Widows of three Wisconsin police officers killed on duty were set Tuesday to try to persuade lawmakers to approve a bill that would require municipalities to pay health insurance premiums for the immediate survivors of slain officers.
Ashley Birkholz, Kara Weiland and Charlette Nenning all were scheduled to speak about the measure during a joint hearing of the Senate judiciary and Assembly insurance committees. Testimony promised to be emotional.
Craig Birkholz, a Fond du Lac officer, was shot in a standoff in March 2011. Police were called to a house to investigate a sexual assault. Shortly after they arrived, 30-year-old James Cruckson opened fire on them, killing Birkholz. A six-hour standoff ensued before officers discovered Cruckson dead inside the home from an apparently self-inflected gunshot wound.
Jason Weiland was working as an Everest Metro Police detective in March 2017 when 45-year-old Nengmy Vang shot and killed him. Angered that his wife refused to sign divorce papers, Vang shot two of her co-workers, Dianne Look and Karen Barclay, at a bank in Rothschild then drove to Schofield and killed her attorney, Sara Quirt Sann. He then holed up in his apartment in Weston and shot Weiland as the detective was trying to set up a perimeter around the building. Officers stormed the apartment and killed Vang in an exchange of gunfire.
LeRoy Nenning was a Sheboygan County sheriff’s lieutenant. He was killed in August 2004 when a car hit his motorcycle while he was responding to a car fire.
The bill would require municipalities and Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin System regents to cover premiums for slain officers’ spouses and children if the municipality or university paid such premiums while the officer was employed.
The municipalities or universities would be obligated to cover the premiums until the spouse reaches age 65 and the surviving children turn 26. Current state law provides similar benefits to firefighters’ immediate survivors.
Under the bill, the state would reimburse the local authorities from a public safety fee that communication providers and wireless retailers collect from customers. The fee has generated about $52 million annually since 2011, according to a state Department of Revenue fiscal estimate attached to the bill. The department said it could not estimate how much the bill would cost, however, since it doesn’t have data on how many spouses or children might qualify.
The Wisconsin Chiefs of Police Association, the Wisconsin Professional Police Association and the Wisconsin County Police Association all have registered in favor of the measure, according to Wisconsin Ethics Commission records. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities, Verizon, AT&T Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Counties Association all have registered as neutral. No groups have registered in opposition.
Senate Republicans have been pushing similar legislation requiring local governments to cover slain officers’ survivors’ health insurance costs since 2011 but nothing has cleared the Assembly. Fiscal estimates attached to the previous bills have put the annual costs as high as $1.7 million, although that bill would have covered emergency medical technicians as well as police.
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