Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Expand Benefits for First Responder Families
LANSING — State Reps. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) and Nate Shannon (D-Sterling Heights) have introduced House Bill 4426 to guarantee in-state college tuition for all surviving school-aged children of police officers and firefighters who were killed in the line of duty, regardless of their surviving parent’s economic circumstances. Current law caps tuition assistance based on their surviving parent’s financial status.
“When someone gives their life in service to our state or community, we don’t just have an obligation to honor them, we have a responsibility to express our gratitude to their families as well,” said Rep. Koleszar. “Yet because of the current threshold, surviving spouses are sacrificing promotions, new job opportunities or even choosing not to remarry in exchange for providing their children with better opportunities. These families have already made the ultimate sacrifice. Supporting the surviving families of our first responders and ensuring their children have an easier path to college is the right thing for Michigan to do.”
Currently the Police Officer’s and Fire Fighters Survivor Tuition Grant Act, is available to children of deceased Michigan police officers or firefighters that meet the established criteria, including a limitation on family income. Named after Sterling Heights Officer Mark Sawyers, HB 4426 ensures all children, no matter their family's circumstances, can benefit from the program following the tragedy of losing a parent. Officer Sawyers was shot and killed while sitting in his patrol car after investigating an accident. His daughter, Lily, was 11 months old when he died.
“In the aftermath of Mark’s death, I was told Lily’s college education would be paid for by the state as a surviving child of a police officer who gave his life in the line of duty. At the time, I was working part-time and newly widowed. Many years later, after returning to work as a full-time teacher, remarrying and having another child, I found out she was no longer eligible because my life circumstances changed,” said Yvonne Sawyers-Swanson, Officer Sawyers surviving spouse. “However, Lily’s circumstances have not changed. She has forever lost her dad. Every child who loses a parent in the line of duty faces tremendous hurdles throughout their lifetime, and amassing college debt should not be another obstacle they have in trying to move forward with their life. She has already paid the greatest debt there is – losing her dad. Mark’s sacrifice and that of all other fallen first responders in service to the state of Michigan should be honored by helping all of their children with an unconditional college tuition grant.”
“These are the first people we call when we need help, it is important that we return the favor and support them and their families in their own times of need,” said Rep. Shannon. “This legislation is a way of assuring that their families and children will be taken care of should anything happen to them – an assurance that unfortunately does not exist within the current version of the law.”
Police Officers Association of Michigan (POAM) Legislative Director Ken Grabowski is eager to work with representatives on both sides of the aisle and his 12,000 members to see this bill passed.
“Every single day when an officer puts on the uniform, they are putting their lives at risk,” said Grabowski. “We at POAM are pleased to see the Michigan House introduce a bill that supports our first responders and their families. I look forward to working with Reps. Koleszar and Shannon to support this legislation and plan to engage our members in the legislative process as well.”
On average, three first responders are killed in the line of duty every year in Michigan. HB 4426 has been assigned to the House Appropriations Committee and is awaiting a hearing.