Legislature doubles public safety death benefit

by CalWatchdog Staff | August 29, 2012 8:37 am

[1]Aug. 29, 2012

By Katy Grimes

Don’t let all of the media coverage of the Legislature’s promise of pension reform fool you for one minute into thinking that they are serious. If serious “reform” was really on the table, Assembly Speaker John Perez would not have created a new unfunded mandate for California through his Workers Compensation bill, AB 2451.[2]

This new bill would provide a death benefit whenever former firefighters and peace officers die.  Currently, firefighters and peace officers receive a generous death benefit if they are killed on the job, or die within four and one-half years of retirement.

The new bill could put bad thoughts into the heads of some family members because the benefit is just so enticing: Firefighters and peace officers need not have made health claims during their careers, they merely have to die, as all people eventually do, for family members to claim the new, rich benefit. And in Perez’s bill, the definition of “family” is suspect.

Here are a few details about this rich bill:

* The Legislature would double the statute of limitations from 240 weeks to 480 weeks from the date of injury.

* The bill provides death benefits of $125,000 to $320,000 to some family members of the deceased who are not necessarily financial dependents of the deceased firefighter or peace officer.

* The bill creates a new unfunded mandate on local governments–the same local governments which are filing for bankruptcy and laying off peace officers and firefighters.

The bottom line

Under current law, if a public safety worker dies prior to leaving the job, the surviving family members can file a posthumous workers comp claim and receive a very rich benefit.

“But the problem is that over the years, the legislature has been doing the bidding of unions by creating within the law presumptions that literally put the government (at every level) in the position of having to disprove that a cause of death was work related, rather than the burden of proof being the other way — like it is in the private sector,” Jon Fleishman of the Flash Report wrote[3].

Lawmakers should instead be creating legislation to end the grossly generous deals that public employee unions have been gifted since 1999, and not increasing their already generous public benefits.

Public safety workers already have retroactive pension enhancements. So why is Perez proposing providing them richer government benefits when the state is financially unstable and vulnerable?

Public safety realignment — cha ching

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown imposed a public safety realignment on the cities and counties of the state.  SB X1 17[4], the 2011 Public Safety Realignment, moved the responsibility for custody of certain low-level felons, parolees and juveniles from the state to the counties. But the state did nothing to provide local governments a way to pay for these criminals or deal with chronic overcrowding.

The realignment was partly motivated by the theme that better rehabilitation practices may positively impact the state’s 70 percent recidivism rate. Realignment was also based on overcrowding issues: Despite the 33 new adult prisons built over the last 30 years, California’s prison system still suffers from serious overcrowding.

However, in the first year of public safety realignment, nearly half of the counties are in the process of building, renovating or expanding their jails–let the building boon begin again.

In 1999, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis gifted public safety employees with a retirement unheard of — lifetime health benefits together with 90 percent of the annual salaries, after only 30 years of work.

This opened up the flood gates to local governments which immediately jumped on the benefit bandwagon and followed suit–but only after the state expanded the definition of a ‘public safety’ employee.

The state, cities and counties are now precariously perched on the edge of financial meltdown because of unfunded pensions and health benefits. Several California cities have already filed for bankruptcy.

“This is a slap in the face of voters and taxpayers when we haven’t even put forth pension reform,” said Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, during debate on AB 2451. “This is a burden on the taxpayer and cities when they are already filing bankruptcy.”

‘More’ is never enough

Brown has been pushing for Proposition 30, a hefty income and sales tax increase, and now perhaps voters and taxpayers will understand why.

Only in California government are there gold-standard salary and pension and health benefit packages for cops, prison guards, suburban firefighters and highway patrol officers.  Despite the high pay and unbelievable benefits and pensions, it appears that more is never enough.

As Fleishman correctly pointed out, “AB 2451, simply put, is a gift of taxpayer funds to a special class of employees and former employees.”

  1. [Image]: http://www.calwatchdog.com/2012/07/25/el-monte-might-tax-fat-kids/donut-police-david-childers-photographyfromflickr/
  2. AB 2451.: http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/Bills/AB_2451/20112012/
  3. wrote: http://www.flashreport.org/blog/2012/08/26/ab-2451-perezs-give-away-to-public-safety-unions-gets-no-gop-votes-in-senate-back-to-assembly/
  4. X1 17: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=abx1_17&sess=CUR&house=B&author=blumenfield

Source URL: https://calwatchdog.com/2012/08/29/legislature-doubles-public-safety-death-benefit/