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Lou B.
Republican PA 11

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  • Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act

    by Representative Lou Barletta

    Posted on 2015-01-12

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    BARLETTA. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

    Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of my bill, H.R. 33, the Protecting Volunteer Firefighters and Emergency Responders Act.

    This is a good, truly bipartisan bill that protects our first responders, our volunteer firefighters, and emergency services personnel. It protects them by ensuring that they are not considered employees under the employer mandate provision of ObamaCare.

    If they were, some fire companies would be forced to pay for the volunteers' health insurance or pay a fine, driving many fire departments out of business. As a former mayor, I know how important volunteer fire companies are to the health and safety of a community. Simply put, this is a public safety issue.

    I first learned about this issue from a volunteer firefighter, Bob Timko, back home, and I began a crusade to clear this up for volunteer firefighters and localities and the residents of Pennsylvania and every other State.

    As you know, the employer mandate of ObamaCare kicks in for employers with 50 or more employees. Now, some fire companies may hear about this and immediately think, ``Well, we only have 25 volunteers, so we are safe. We don't have 50.'' That may not necessarily be the case. Some fire companies are considered part of their local government. If you take the number of firefighters, paid and unpaid, and add them to the number of other public employees, such as highway workers, police, code enforcement officers, health officers, and clerical workers, you can easily reach 50, even in a small town.

    This would be a very big deal in my home State of Pennsylvania, where 97 percent of our fire companies are either completely or mostly volunteers. Nationally, almost 92 percent of fire companies use at least some volunteers, and over 86 percent depend on all or mostly volunteers.

    Those numbers come from the 2012 National Fire Department Census conducted by the United States Fire Administration. If your district is like mine, then volunteer firefighters are ingrained in your community.

    We won an initial battle on this issue. After I raised it with the IRS and brought pressure to bear through this legislation, they finally relented and changed their rules regarding the Federal tax status of volunteer firefighters.

    However, this is too important of a public safety issue to be left to the changing positions of unelected Federal bureaucrats at the IRS. Their arbitrary regulatory guidance could easily be changed back.

    Our people back home deserve better. We owe our emergency service volunteers, who risk their lives every day, rock-solid certainty. This legislation says, once and for all, that volunteer firefighters are just that--volunteers--and should not be subjected to the employer mandate. It takes away the power of the IRS to change the rules.

    I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for their continued support. Last year, this bill passed the Ways and Means Committee by a strong bipartisan vote of 37-0, and it passed the House by a very rare unanimous vote of 410-0. Not one single Member, Republican or Democrat, opposed it.

    I want to thank Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader McCarthy, Majority Whip Scalise, the Ways and Means Committee, and their staffs. We all recognize that my bill is a simple, bipartisan solution to an unforeseen consequence of the President's health care law.

    This bill has the strong support of the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Congressional Fire Services Institute. I want to thank my partners, as well as the men and women they represent, for their help.

    To be clear, forcing volunteer fire companies to comply with ObamaCare will not extend health insurance to the uninsured; rather, it will close firehouses, placing people at risk.

    I strongly urge the passage of this bill.

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