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Otter signs Kralicek bill into law

BOISE - Gov. Butch Otter has signed legislation into law to help permanently disabled law enforcement officers like Mike Kralicek of Coeur d’Alene with health insurance costs for their families.

“I’m happy,” Kralicek said Monday. “I just want to thank all the people that helped get it through.”

The bill, SB 1111, actually won’t help Kralicek, a Coeur d’Alene police officer who was critically injured when a fleeing suspect shot him in 2004, but it’d help others like him in the future. Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, spent five years trying to get the legislation passed.

Jorgenson said Monday he’s still working on setting up a public signing ceremony for the bill, but last Thursday, he got an urgent call from the governor’s office - the deadline for signing the bill was about to expire. “They said, ‘It’s got to happen before 2 - could you come over?’ ” Jorgenson said. “I was there when he signed it - the governor was very considerate in having me come over.”

During the legislative session, the governor has just five days to act on a bill passed by the Legislature. He can either sign it into law or veto it; if he takes no action within five days, it becomes law without his signature. Otter has purposely allowed three bills to take effect that way so far this year; it’s usually a sign of just lukewarm support.

The bill would provide a $100,000 lump-sum payment to cover the officer’s family’s health insurance costs when a law enforcement officer is permanently disabled, and thus can no longer provide health coverage for the family. It’s entirely funded by the officers themselves, through a slightly increased retirement contribution, and run through the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho, at no cost to either the state or local governments.

Jorgenson originally tried to win retroactive legislation, so it could have covered Kralicek, but when that failed, he said the Coeur d’Alene officer urged him to at least get something that would help others in the future.

Kralicek was at home in North Idaho on Monday, where his wife, Carrie, was caring for him through a bout with pneumonia. “I’m just getting over it right now,” he said by phone.

When Kralicek was shot three days after Christmas in 2004, he went into a coma, and doctors initially had doubts about whether he’d survive. He spent five months in a rehabilitation hospital in Colorado, and has gone through various hospitalizations and long and painful physical therapy for critical brain and spinal cord injuries.

Jorgenson said he was relieved when the bill was signed into law. “There was some trepidation as to him signing it,” he said of the governor. It wasn’t that there was any problem with the bill, which passed both houses near-unanimously. Instead, the concern was about late-session politics: Five other lawmakers had signed on as co-sponsors of the bill, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star. In the heavy negotiations that characterize the end of a legislative session, an influential leader’s name on a bill sometimes can turn the bill into a bargaining chip.

Jorgenson said he was glad that didn’t happen to SB 1111.

Jon Hanian, press secretary for Otter, said, “I can confirm we’re working with him to try to find out when we can do a signing ceremony.”

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