Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed volunteer rescuers bill

Posted at 12:16 PM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-24 15:36:27-04

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Despite not receiving any type of compensation for what they do, volunteer firefighters still go out and risk their lives and jobs for local citizens.

Back in March, House Bill 2348 was introduced to protect volunteer first responders from receiving punishment if they go out to a state disaster.

Recently that bill was vetoed by Gov. Greg Abbott.

When it comes to small communities, volunteer first responders play a vital role when it comes to emergencies.

“We are struggling as it is to maintain volunteers, and anything we can get to help us, because no one works here at one of the volunteer fire departments, that is not their primary source of income. They have a job, and they have to take off to help their neighbor when it comes for time of a fire disaster,” said Refugio Volunteer Fire Chief Ronald Williams.

Abbott vetoed House Bill 2348, which would have provided job protection to volunteer firefighters after they were deployed to help serve during major disasters in Texas, but it would have allowed employers to reduce their pay because of having to respond to an emergency during work hours.

“Just sick to your stomach when you first see it come across, thinking why? Then you read the reason that the official statement from the governor’s office. He felt like it was going to be another source of litigation for employees to be able to sue employers. Personally I don’t like that explanation, and I don’t think that was a good reason,” said Williams.

Volunteer fire departments across the state of Texas are very disappointed. This bill would have helped small town communities recruit new firefighters and retain others.

“Every firefighter you have in your small community are strictly volunteers; they are not paid, they are not compensated, they are not paid firefighters like they are in the big cities. So we have to recruit these people and get these people trained. This bill getting vetoed was a huge deal,” said Williams.

A similar bill was filed in 2007 but didn’t pass.

“It will be back again in two years when the legislator reconvenes. The State Firefighter’s and Fire Marshall’s Association will be back pushing to get this bill past one more time,” Williams said.

Here's what Abbott said after his veto in a statement:

"First responders play a vital role in disaster recovery, so I appreciate the good intentions of the author. But this does not mean we need to create a new civil cause of action so that employees who volunteer in disasters can sue their employers. House Bill 2348 would open the door to such lawsuits against both public and private employers. Employers have every incentive to accommodate their brave employees who serve as first responders, but they deserve the flexibility to develop their own leave policies for their employees, instead of having the State dictate the terms.

"Since the Eighty-Sixth Texas Legislature, Regular Session, by its adjournment has prevented the return of this bill, I am filing these objections in the office of the Secretary of State and giving notice thereof by this public proclamation according to the aforementioned constitutional provision."

The Texas House voted 126 to 19 in favor of the bill while the Texas Senate voted 27 to 4 in support of the bill.

The bill would allow for employers to reduce pay to volunteers while they’re out of work. The state pays volunteer firefighters when they respond to emergencies to help offset lost wages.

More than 70 percent of firefighters in Texas serve as volunteers, and most of them are afraid to get credentialed for and respond to state emergencies like hurricanes or wildfires.