Rep. Joe Neguse intends to reintroduce wildfire bill named after smokejumper who died fighting 2021 wildfire
Legislation that failed to become law during last congress aims to boost pay and benefits for federal wildland firefighters
The Steamboat Pilot & Today
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse intends to reintroduce his Tim’s Act legislation that aims to increase federal wildland firefighter pay and benefits after the bill failed to become law during the last Congress.
At a town hall in Steamboat Springs last week, Neguse said he planned to reintroduce the bill at an event on Friday, April 14, in Estes Park. When it was first introduced in 2021, the bill had bipartisan support, including Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney.
The bill — The Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act — is named after a smokejumper who died after parachuting into a fire in New Mexico in 2021.
Neguse said the bill is especially important for Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, as it has seen some of the state’s largest wildfires ever in recent years. The December 2021 Marshall Fire, which is the most destructive in state history and burned more than 1,000 homes and killed two people in Boulder County, was also within the district.
“Visiting with those wildland federal firefighters, who spent months battling the flames on East Troublesome and on Cameron Peak and finding out that these guys were making, $13 an hour,” Neguse said on Thursday, April 6, referring to Colorado’s two largest fires that each burned in 2020. “Sacrificing every day to protect our community and risking it all and woefully underpaid.”
Neguse, a Democrat from Boulder who represents Routt County in the U.S. House of Representatives, said that Tim’s Act “would truly ensure that firefighters are paid what they deserve.” Federal firefighters often make much less than colleagues employed at the state and local level.
The exact details of the new rendition of Tim’s Act haven’t been released yet, but Neguse said he viewed the bill as a “centerpiece” to several efforts to boost wildland firefighter pay. Some of those efforts were included in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, though Neguse said they are not being implemented properly.
In February, Neguse and other members of congress sent a letter to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Forest Service expressing their concern about how those measures have been implemented.
“The wildland firefighters who came to us said, ‘Listen, Joe, we appreciate everything you did, but the agencies aren’t administering this right,'” Neguse said.
The previous Tim’s Act would have raised firefighter pay to at least $20 an hour, created a federal wildland firefighter classification, provided them health care and mental health services, and ensured that all wildland firefighters earned retirement benefits. It would have also provided housing stipends for firefighters on duty more than 50 miles away from where they live and given tuition assistance for permanent firefighters.
“Tim would be humbled and honored to have this legislation be a part of his legacy and to represent the hard work and sacrifice of thousands of wildland firefighters,” said Michelle Hart, Tim Hart’s wife, in a factsheet about the 2021 version of the bill. “Wildland firefighters deserve to be recognized and compensated for the grueling conditions in which they work and for putting their lives on the line every day.”
It is unclear how much support for the legislation there is in Congress, and Neguse said a key difference this time around is that his party is now in the minority. He also said getting support for the measure in the Senate has been difficult.
“The real problem — candidly here — has been the Senate,” Neguse said. “The Senate just moves at a glacial pace unlike the House and we’ve had a real challenge in getting a senator to introduce a companion bill. If we can pull that off and make it bicameral, it would make a huge difference.”
Still, Neguse said he believes that many of the provisions included in Tim’s Act could be incorporated into a larger national defense bill.
“We’re going to keep at it,” Neguse said. “It’s a defining issue for me.”
This story is from SteamboatPilot.com.
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