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First responders rally at Capitol to preserve health coverage

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Hundreds of police officers and firefighters converged Wednesday on the state Capitol.

The Legislature’s Republican leaders have made a public employee retirement overhaul a priority to be wrapped up this year before the 2018 election season.

A governor’s task force made recommendations on addressing underfunded benefits. But GOP leaders say those don’t go far enough.

Justin Fox is a firefighter in Midland. He says any plans that change retiree health care benefits are unfair.

“I think it’s an overreach, it’s an overstep. They need to give this a chance to work first.”

Chad Anders is a member of the plumbers and pipefitters union in Saginaw. He says it was important to stand with police and firefighters unions to protect public employee retirement benefits.

“These guys are people who stand for us every day of the week, every day of the year, and it’s nice to be able to stand here with them when they need us.”

Kalamazoo County Sheriff Richard Fuller says fixing the problem should not be at the expense of retired first responders.

To talk about somebody wanting to change your health care benefits to something you never agreed while you were an employee, or your union never agreed to, is a dangerous situation. It creates un-trust.”

A state House committee has opened hearings on the issue. But there is still no legislation introduced. House and Senate GOP leaders say they’d like to have something done before the end of the year.

Rick Pluta is the Capitol Bureau Chief for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He is heard daily on WCMU's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.