This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Spouses of fallen police officers and firefighters would receive more financial support and other benefits under a bill introduced Wednesday in the Utah House.
If a public safety worker dies in the line of duty, spouses would receive six months' salary in a lump-sum payment, replacing current provisions for a payment of $1,000 to $1,500. Under House Bill 288, introduced by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, departments also would be required to cover health insurance for surviving spouses (until they remarry or become eligible for Medicare) and children (up to age 26). Existing laws require no continued health coverage beyond a month after the death of the officer or firefighter.
That was the harsh reality facing Shante Johnson after her husband, Draper police Sgt. Derek Johnson, was shot to death Sept. 1, 2013. She now pays out of pocket for her family's health insurance.
"First of all, when your spouse is killed in the line of duty, you're picking a burial plot at the age of 31," Johnson told the Standard-Examiner. "And you're trying to cope with what your children are coping with, let alone, by the way, that your mortgage was due yesterday, you don't have health insurance anymore, and there's no income coming in. It's pretty intense."
The bill also orders agencies to help surviving spouses apply for death benefits. Nannette Wride said the bureaucracy was daunting to navigate after her husband, Utah County sheriff's Sgt. Cory Wride, was gunned down Jan. 30, 2014 in Eagle Mountain.
"Cory was the first death for Utah County," Wride said, "and they didn't know what to do they didn't know which benefits were available or what paperwork to fill out. So to be able to have a liaison with the state that can walk an agency through all those hoops is so much easier."