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May 6, 2014
Another View: Pérez's bill offers firefighters' families relief

RB_Firefighters_Carmichael.JPG(May 6 - By Lou Paulson and Mike Durant, Special to The Bee)

On Monday, the families of fallen California law enforcement officers gathered across from the Capitol for a solemn tribute, adding 13 more names to the California Peace Officers Memorial.

The emotions felt by survivors and their extended public safety families are exposed at ceremonies such as these. Yet The Sacramento Bee's editorial board chose this day, of all days, to resume its crusade against an "undead bill" modifying survivor benefit eligibility for widows and orphans of fallen peace officers and firefighters ("Pérez's third strike on a really bad bill" Editorials, May 5).

The timing was, at best, insensitive. We also feel the gallows parlance of legislative bill-speak invoked in the editorial is inappropriate, given the subject matter.

At the center of this uncivil discourse is a modest and humane measure. Speaker John A. Pérez's Assembly Bill 1035 narrowly modifies a century-old time limit that cuts public safety widows and orphans off from applying for one-time lump-sum survivor benefits after 240 weeks.

The bipartisan measure is designed to close a loophole that penalizes a very few surviving families whose loved ones are diagnosed with job-related cancer or tuberculosis and, thanks to medical science, outlive the outdated time clock.

Cost estimates placed on AB 1035 by the League of California Cities and other opponents range from wildly overblown to completely fabricated, unsubstantiated by any accounting beyond "we say so."

The most current, independent assessment from a state commission puts the "worst case" annual cost to all local governments everywhere in California at $5million. That's 0.005 percent of the more than $100billion spent by cities and counties in 2011-2012. Moreover, these would be one-time payments; there would be no ongoing long-term obligation.

This narrow expansion in eligibility isn't going to break any bank that isn't already long since broken. Yet in deference to the league and others, this legislation has been repeatedly scaled back and now has its own four-year time limit with a specific mandate on the state to analyze the true cost. It won near-unanimous bipartisan support in both houses, as have earlier versions.

The situation addressed by AB 1035 is rare, but for those few families affected by it, the current time limit is a heartbreaking gut punch. These families shouldn't be punished because their loved one didn't die "fast enough."

We believe AB 1035 does right by these families and the taxpayers. We urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it.

Lou Paulson is California Professional Firefighters president. Mike Durant is Peace Officers Research Association of California president.