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May 15, 2014
Editorial: Reversal of death benefits bill is calculated move by Gov. Jerry Brown

RB_Firefighters_Carmichael.JPG(May 15 - By the Editorial Board)

After sensibly vetoing a legislative giveaway to firefighters and police officers - twice - Gov. Jerry Brown this week gave in on the third try.

We're disappointed. Brown, who is running for re-election, seems to have either given in to pressure from the powerful public safety interests or decided to sign the bill as a parting gift to former Speaker John A. Pérez, who is termed out and running for state controller this year.

Pérez's Assembly Bill 1035 extends the time the family of a police officer or firefighter can file a claim for lump-sum death benefits, from 240 weeks to 420 weeks, in cases of cancer, tuberculosis, blood-borne infection diseases or staph infections contracted while on duty. In the past two years, Pérez pushed two previous versions of this bill through the Legislature only to have them vetoed by Brown.

Cities protested the legislation because of its potential to add tens of millions in costs on top of the very generous benefits that local governments already provide to the family of officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty.

Brown heard their concerns at the time, noting that there was no evidence they were needed and the potential cost was too high. The Bee's editorial opposed the bills as well - including the new version.

On Thursday, the governor told The Bee's editorial board that he found the new version "reasonable." What changed his mind, he said, is the provision that it sunsets in 2019 and therefore would affect only about 20 widows. The estimated cost for cities is only about between $4 million and $5 million. Brown said that if he's re-elected he can re-evaluate the extension if anyone tries to renew it.

He expounded further on the decision to sign this bill, lending credibility to the notion it was a carefully calculated political move: "In this business you have so many yeses and so many nos," Brown said. "If all you have is nos, you're not going to get many yeses. So you have to balance. It's all a balance."

That raises the question: What "no" did he balance for this "yes."