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Updated Apr 5, 2013 - 4:18 pm

Gov. Brewer OKs benefits to kin of fallen officers

The benefits were extended to one year in 2010 but the bill Brewer signed Friday allows the surviving spouse to receive medical benefits from their employer until they reach Medicare age or remarry, and for their children to be covered until they're 18, or 23 if they are full time students.

The bill was prompted in part by the experience of Angela Harrolle, whose son was 2 and daughter was 4 when her husband was killed in October 2008. Department of Public Safety Officer/paramedic Bruce Harrolle was killed when he was hit by a helicopter's twirling blades while rescuing two hikers off a mountain near Sedona.

Three days after her husband's death, Angela Harrolle said she was told her family's health insurance had been cancelled. She managed to get private health insurance, but she said Friday it was another emotional challenge to face that came even before she could attend her husband's funeral.

``I vowed that day to do everything in my power to make a change so that other families did not have to hear those same words,'' Harrolle said.

The 2010 bill was prompted by Harrolle's experience, and with Friday's signing, the benefits are extended further.

``With this legislation, House Bill 2204, we can take a small step to protect their family members by ensuring they at least continue to receive health benefits,'' Brewer said.

The premiums will be paid by the employer. The bill also extends benefits to prison guards and firefighters employed by private companies contracting with municipalities or the state. Those benefits will be required in the next contract round.

Sharon Knutson-Felix faced a $2,000 health insurance bill the month her husband, Doug Knutson, died while on duty for the Department of Public Safety in 1998. The couple had been married for more than two decades and had two teenage sons together at the time of his death.

``It's like your worst nightmare,'' she said after the bill signing. ``Not only is the person who provides for you not coming home, you lose your insurance and your benefits.''

Knutson-Felix attended the press conference with her eight-year-old granddaughter. The girl never got to meet her grandfather.

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler.

``This is not something that was done by one person sponsoring a piece of legislation, it took an entire Legislature to basically step up and say we truly recognize the job you do, and we appreciate it and on behalf of the citizens that we represent we moved this legislation through to today,'' Robson said.

Dozens of police officers and firefighters attended the signing at the state Capitol. For Harrolle, Friday's signing ceremony concluded a yearslong effort. She was accompanied by her son, Justice, now 6, and Addie, who turns 9 on Sunday.

``I do hope that from here on out future families can really benefit from this,'' she said. ``There's nothing worse than having yet one more thing taken away from you during a time of such loss.''

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AP reporter Cristina Silva contributed to this report.

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