AUSTIN — A Texas bill that would extend death benefits to state guard members went before the House Defense and Veterans’ Affairs Committee Thursday.
House Bill 90, also known as the Bishop Evans Act, would improve worker compensation and death benefits for Texas military personnel on active duty, allowing those service members the same access as officers of other military status who are killed in the line of duty.
Filed by state Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, the bill is a response to the death of Evans, a Texas Army National Guard specialist, who died last year after jumping into the Rio Grande to aid two immigrants.
After his death, his family received no financial payment, which is often offered to other state employees who die while on active duty.
“This legislation will give guardsmen and their families benefits that they deserve,” Patterson said. “We owe a great deal to those who protect and serve our nation and state exactly like Sgt. Bishop Evans did..”
Members of the Texas State Guard operate on a voluntary basis and are typically called upon during natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes.
Upon its launch in March 2021, Operation Lone Star, the military mission along the Texas-Mexico border to address illegal immigration and drug smuggling, has called on as many as 10,000 military personnel to its southern border.
While state guards often deploy for a few weeks at a time and receive a known end date, OLS has required some to stay for months with no projected end date to the mission.
The Bishop Evans Act would offer families of the guard member $500,000 upon their death in the line of duty. The bill also extends workers compensation for the entirety of their deployment including when they are driving to and returning from duty.
As of Friday, more than 50 house members of both parties had signed on as authors or co-authors of the bill.
State Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, also filed an identical companion bill in the senate, and House Speaker Dade Phelan named the bill a top chamber priority on Monday.
Mitch Fuller, who spoke on behalf of the Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars, said death benefits in the line of duty are guaranteed to national military personnel, and it makes most sense for it to be extended to volunteer guard members.
He said what state guard members are doing on the border is “as close as you can get to being deployed in a hostile environment overseas.”
“The state guard has stepped up time and time and time again to execute the missions on behalf of the people of Texas and their benefits need to be way closer to those who serve (in national branches),” Fuller said. “We want to ensure that those wearing the uniform regardless of what status that they're in, (be it) active duty or state active duty, have everything that they need.”
The bill was left pending in committee Thursday. It requires a majority vote by the committee before moving to the full house for a vote.
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