Bill would exempt firefighters from jury duty

Because they perform such a vital public service, Virginia law exempts police officers from jury duty. But what about firefighters?

They’d be exempt too under a bill proposed by state Delegate James E. Edmunds II, R-South Boston, and endorsed last week by a House subcommittee.

House Bill 1527 also would apply to emergency medical technicians, rescue squad members and arson investigators. Along with firefighters, they would be exempt from jury duty if they so request.

Firefighters and other emergency personnel often are stretched thin; in a fire department, only a handful may be licensed to drive a fire truck. Requiring them to serve on juries puts more stress on first responders and can undermine public safety, Edmunds said.

“A lot of departments only have one or two who have the license to drive a truck,” Edmunds said.

“You can imagine if they were on vacation and there’s no substitute, and you have to call somebody from a different department. It could potentially be a life-saving issue.”

The issue was brought to Edmunds’ attention by the Virginia State Firefighters Association.

On Wednesday, a subcommittee of the House Courts of Justice Committee voted 11-0 in favor of HB 1527. The measure now goes to the full committee for consideration this week.

During the subcommittee’s review, one concern raised about the bill was whether some citizens might try to dodge jury duty by falsely claiming they volunteer at a local fire department.

Edmunds assured the panel that such claims could easily be disproved by simply calling the department.

He said the bill is a fitting recognition for public servants: “It’s a small token of appreciation for those who serve.”

To follow or comment on House Bill 1527, visit http://www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/hb1527.
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