LANSING — State Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth) was joined by the family of a first responder killed in the line of duty to offer testimony before the House Appropriations Committee this week in support of House Bill 4426. The bill would guarantee in-state college tuition for all surviving school-aged children of police officers and firefighters who were killed in the line of duty, regardless of their surviving parent’s economic circumstances.

“This legislation gives first responders the peace of mind of knowing that their families will be taken care of, should they make the ultimate sacrifice. It’s the least we can do,” said Koleszar. “Thankfully, this is not a program that needs to be used often. However, it’s important to ensure that it’s there for those who need it. To deprive students this benefit is just wrong.”

Currently, the Police Officer’s and Fire Fighter’s Survivor Tuition Grant Act is available to children of deceased Michigan police officers or firefighters that meet the established criteria, including a limitation on family income. Introduced in honor of Sterling Heights Officer Mark Sawyers, HB 4426 ensures all children, no matter their family’s circumstances, can benefit from the program following the tragedy of losing a parent. On average, three first responders are killed in the line of duty every year in Michigan. Officer Sawyers was shot and killed while sitting in his patrol car after investigating an accident. His daughter, Lily, was 11-months-old when he died.

“Mark’s death was followed by a whirlwind of information and paperwork to process,” said Yvonne Sawyers-Swanson, Officer Sawyers surviving spouse. “At that time, I was told that a Michigan law assured Lily’s college tuition would be paid. It was stability in the face of uncertainty. Many years later, I learned she was no longer eligible because I had remarried and my life circumstances had changed. However, Lily’s circumstances have not changed. She has forever lost her dad. Every child who loses a parent in the line of duty faces tremendous hurdles throughout their lifetime, and amassing college debt should not be another obstacle they have in trying to move forward with their life. Lily has already paid the greatest debt there is – losing her dad. Mark’s sacrifice and that of all other fallen first responders in service to the state of Michigan should be honored by helping all of their children with an unconditional college tuition grant.”

Michigan Professional Firefighters Union President Mark Docherty is eager to continue working to see this bill passed.

“The Michigan Professional Fire Fighters Union would like to thank Rep. Koleszar for introducing HB 4426,” Docherty said. “This legislation will bring peace of mind to our first responders whose greatest fear is how their families will get by without them in the event they have to give their lives in the line of duty. It will help to fulfill the dreams of our members to see their children graduate from college, even though they can no longer be there. We hope the legislature will honor our fallen heroes by taking swift action to pass this bill and making it law.”

HB 4426 now awaits a vote in the House Appropriations Committee.