The day before her husband’s funeral, Velma Donahue took her daughter to the doctor where she discovered she no longer had health insurance.
“We just went through the worst week of our lives and then to have this – something so vital, to be all of a sudden gone – it was indescribable,” Donahue said. “I came home crying not knowing what to do.”
Donahue’s husband, Cody, was a Colorado State Patrol trooper. He died November 25th, 2016 while investigating a crash on I-25.
Velma’s story inspired lawmakers to get to work. State Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, a Republican representing Adams County, is one of the prime sponsors of a bill that would have helped Velma Donahue.
The bill would extend medical and dental benefits to families of state employees who die on the job for one year. Right now, benefits expire for loved ones at the end of the month in which the state employee died.
“When someone’s going through grief, the last thing they’re thinking about is, 'Oh, I got a letter I’m going to have to deal with insurance,'’” Sen. Martinez Humenik said during a Thursday press conference at the capitol.
“This is a dangerous profession and the state really needs to back our employees up,” said CSP Chief Matthew Packard speaking in support of the Senate bill. “We need to be able to have resources that will help their families pay for those sacrifices if the worst thing might happen.”
David Morris, a Colorado Department of Transportation employee, died May 15, 2015 while plowing snow from Monarch Pass.
“The impact that that had – that event has – none of us can imagine unless it affects us personally,” said Michael Lewis, CDOT executive director. “We need to do everything we can to support our public employees.”
Sen. Martinez Humenik also referenced Thomas Clements, the head of the Colorado Department of Corrections who was murdered in March of 2013 and Richard Rozman, a Colorado Division of Water Resources employee killed in a car crash in 2015.
“If these people who are working on behalf of us in different departments around the state are willing to put their lives on the line for us, then we need to be willing to step up and make sure that their families are supported when something tragic happens,” said state Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat.
The Senate bill with bipartisan support passed a 5-0 vote Thursday afternoon in the Senate Health and Human Services committee.
The bill does not address extending benefits for families of county employees killed on the job. The lawmakers who spoke Thursday said that was something they hoped to tackle in the future.
“It is important that any public employee in their line of duty – if they’re killed in that line of duty – that we maintain that same level of commitment to their families,” said Sen. Moreno.
Velma Donahue is hopeful the bill passes and helps families like her own.
“This is for all those people who might end up in this situation, which I hope no one ever does,” she said. “But if they did, [insurance] would be the last thing they’d have to worry about.”