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Wisconsin Chiefs of Police lobby to get benefits for families of officers killed in the line of duty

Widows of fallen officers push for health benefit legislation TuesdayBy Brittany Schmidt

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) -- A newly proposed bill to help the families of fallen police officers is making its way through the state legislature.

The bill, known as Senate Bill 266, or the ‘duty death’ benefit bill, was taken up during a public hearing Tuesday in front of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

The newly proposed bill would require municipalities to pay health insurance premiums for the family of an officer killed on the job. Under the same bill, those municipalities would then be reimbursed by the state.

“Health insurance coverage would continue until a spouse reaches age 65 or remarries and to surviving children until they reach age 26,” said Senator Van Wanggaard, (R) Racine.

“This ensures there is more peace of mind for the spouse or child of someone in law enforcement, so that if one of these horrible tragedies happens at least we know benefits are going to be continued to be provided for the family members,” said Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul.

Among multiple law enforcement officials who addressed the committee, three surviving widows also talked about their "new normal" after their husbands were killed in the line of duty.

It’s been two years since Kara Weiland lost her husband, Everest Metro Detective Jason Weiland, during a shooting spree in Wausau in 2017.

“I can still hear my youngest daughter say, ‘No mom, it can’t be true,’” said Weiland.

It’s been 8 years since Ashley Birkholz lost her husband, Fond du Lac Officer Craig Birkholz, during a standoff in 2011.

“There’s a feeling that all hope and dreams you and that person shared no longer exist,” said Birkholz. “I lost my best friend that day.”

It’s been 15 years since Charlette Nennig lost her husband, Sheboygan County Sheriff's Lieutenant LeRoy Nennig, after he was hit by a car in 2004 while responding to a vehicle fire.

“My son, Craig, who was 17 at the time, never got the chance for his father to watch him play football his senior year,” said Nennig.

At the public hearing, all three widows talked about the days after their husband’s deaths and the emotional and financial stress that followed. Many receiving letters that said they would lose health insurance soon.

“I was terrified of cutting hours (at work) because I didn’t want to lose insurance,” said Weiland.

Although this newly proposed bill would no longer help Weiland, Birkholz or Nennig, they still believe it’s important to fight for this bill now.

“It will allow future survivors to have needed time to take care of their family during the darkest hours,” said Nennig.

Under current Wisconsin law, fallen firefighters are already covered by a similar bill that was passed back in 2009. The president of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, Mahlon Mitchell, said the bill was prompted by the death of Green Bay Fire Lieutenant Arnie Wolff in 2006.

“We were not able to get his wife insurance until 2009. She was going to go broke. We were able to get legislation passed. Why you might ask, why police officers weren't added to the legislation back then? I can't answer that because I wasn't president... but they should have been,” said Mitchell.

“I think a lot of people recognize that, and I am hoping we will see a change soon,” said Kaul.

“If we truly back the badge, we should back the badge’s family,” said Wanggaard.

Michelle Berryman