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Law of the West

John Scorsine
Peyton, Colo.

The first several months of every year are wonderful times to watch the activities in the State Capitols of Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. Our part-time legislatures get together and do their best to pass laws, sometimes with outcomes that just make you scratch your head. This legislative season is no different; and fortunately for Wyoming, it’s over. The People in Nebraska and Colorado are not as fortunate. Nebraska is only a little better than halfway through its session and Colorado will keep it going until May 9.

Being a volunteer emergency medical technician and firefighter, I always keep an eye on the legislatures to see what they are doing for the first responder community. In Wyoming, there was one of those head scratchers this session. House Bill 0142 was introduced by Representative Diercks. The bill was entitled, “Assault and Battery on Emergency Medical Technicians.” It provided that anyone that obstructs, impedes or interferes with an EMT is guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail or both. It passed the House, but died in a Senate Committee. Yet, the Legislature determined that killing or injuring a police, corrections, fire or search and rescue dog will be a felony punishable by 10 years in prison, a fine of $10,000, or both. It has been signed into law.

Now, I am as much of a fan of search dogs as anyone. I trained a wonderful Golden Retriever for search work and I know the enormous investment that goes into training an animal to save lives. But, really, intentionally disable a dog and you get 10 years in the Big House ” but, interfere with an EMT trying to save a life, and it’s just another day at work for the EMT? When I get up to Cheyenne next, I look forward to hearing one of the Legislators explain that one!

But, in all fairness, the State of Wyoming did show their appreciation to all those EMTs, career and volunteer that serve their communities. You might not get legal protection from someone interfering with your saving a life, but you do get a special EMT license plate thanks to the passage of Senate File 0057 ” so long as you pay the fee for a “vanity” plate.

Colorado, on the other hand, is recognizing the contribution of their first responders in a tangible way if House Bill 1153 makes it through the process. That Bill will authorize, for a two year period, an annual tax rebate of $125 per year to volunteer firefighters. Now, it sure costs a volunteer a whole lot more than that to be a volunteer, but we don’t do it for the money. Most of us buy much of our own equipment and pay for a fair amount of our own training. But, it is the thoughts that accompany the legislation that are far more significant and much appreciated. (At least first responders haven’t gone to the dogs in Colorado!)

One of the ironies of being a volunteer firefighter is that even though you devote considerable resources to serving your community and expend a fair amount of personal resources in the process, you still pay the fire district portion of your property tax. In some states that is not the case.

A recent law in New York State looks to helping recruit new volunteers for fire and ambulance departments. There municipalities are now authorized to enact ordinances that grant up to a 10 percent exemption from real property taxes to volunteers. But, many volunteers may not own real property. Perhaps, our western states should look at a hybrid law. Volunteers who own real property could be granted a real property tax exemption and those that don’t might receive a state income tax rebate.

Aside from the irony in Wyoming, the real point that must not be lost on anyone who lives outside the larger cities in our three western states is that there is a shortage of volunteers for fire departments and ambulance services. In the fire district I serve, a new recruit, a volunteer, must devote nine months to training, just to get to touch his first patient or douse her first fire. Nine months of Monday and Thursday evenings and all day Saturdays spent away from your family, learning to serve. As volunteers we are trained to the same standards as our career brothers and sisters. The investment in time is enormous. Whatever can be done to encourage volunteerism is in everyone’s best interest ” even those folks that live in places like Denver.

Someday, they will be driving in the country and get into a wreck or have some other emergency. They will call 911 for assistance ” what if no one comes to help?

The information provided in this column is based upon general principles of law and should not be relied upon in any manner. It is not the intent of this column, its author, publisher or the Fence Post to provide legal advice to any person. You should address specific legal questions to your family lawyer. In Wyoming, the State Bar can refer you to competent lawyers in your community by calling (307) 634-7823. In Colorado, call the Metropolitan Lawyer Referral Service at (303) 831-8000. Readers in Nebraska can receive referrals from the State Bar Association by calling 1-800-742-3005.


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