BOSTON -- The Massachusetts House on Monday approved a bill that would allow the town of Lancaster the option of offering town health insurance to the surviving family of deceased volunteer firefighter Martin McNamara.
The bill, which now moves to the Senate for consideration, was filed by Gov. Mitt Romney Nov. 15, and must be approved by the Senate and signed by the governor by next Tuesday to become law.
Otherwise, the bill would have to be re-filed and go through the normal legislative process starting Jan. 5.
State Rep. James Eldridge, D-Acton, said the health insurance bill was less controversial than other pieces of legislation that would help Claire B. McNamara and her children.
"This would not require any state money. It would just require the town to do something," Eldridge said.
Lancaster would be required to place on the ballot at a special town election within 35 days of the effective date of the law, the question: "Shall the town vote to accept the provisions of section 282 of chapter 149 of the Acts of 2004, which makes Claire B. McNamara, the surviving spouse of Martin H. McNamara V, so long as she remains unmarried, and her dependents, eligible for health insurance through the town of Lancaster on the same basis as all other retirees with responsibility of the retiree's share of the premiums?"
Romney wrote in a letter accompanying the bill that the issue of the health insurance benefit would be separate from any plan to provide the McMamara family with an accidental death benefit or an annuity.
"In the future, the tragedy suffered by the McNamara family should not be accompanied by a need for this type of special legislation for other firefighters families," Romney wrote. "I look forward to working with the Legislature in the coming term to find a permanent solution to this problem."
McNamara died on Nov. 29, 2003 while battling a house fire.
Volunteer and call firefighters receive no benefits, and Lancaster voters on Nov. 2 narrowly rejected a proposed tax override that would have provided the McNamara family a $650,000 pension.
Eldridge said he and other lawmakers will work in the next session to pass legislation to provide the family of any firefighter, whether volunteer or professional, with a death benefit.
At the same time, the local legislative delegation has proposed allocating $650,000 out of the state's General Fund for the McNamaras under a separate proposal.
The Senate is scheduled to meet again Thursday.