Legislation touted by supporters as a fitting tribute to fallen heroes but ripped by opponents as a costly expansion of public benefits was vetoed Sunday by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Assembly Bill 2451 would have doubled the statute of limitations for families of police and firefighters to file for job-related death benefits that can exceed $300,000.
The bill by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez would have allowed families to file for death benefits for up to nine years after the diagnosis of a job-caused illness or injury to a public safety official.
Brown's veto message said that California lacks adequate data to determine how many people would file for benefits under AB 2451 or how much the state would be obligated to pay as a result.
Potentially, costs could range from modest to massive, perhaps totaling tens of millions of dollars for the state and hundreds of millions for local government, Brown wrote.
"What is needed is rational, thoughtful consideration of balancing the serious fiscal constraints faced at all levels of government against our shared priority to adequately and fairly compensate the families of those public safey heroes who succumb to work-related injuries and disease," Brown said.
Brown noted that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is conducting a major study of firefighters and risks of death from cancer and other job-related disease. Results could help him make an informed decision on issues posed by AB 2451 in the future, he said.
Brown said he will direct the state Department of Industrial Relations to "take all steps necessary" to ensure that California maintains and studies data that could shed light on the impact of such an extension.
"In the interim, I cannot expose state and local governments to the serious fiscal risks enactment of this measure may entail," Brown wrote.
AB 2451 would have applied to deaths from cancer, tuberculosis, blood-borne infectious diseases and what are commonly called MSRA skin infections, ailments presumed by law to be job-related when they afflict police or firefighters.
The bill was meant to target situations in which a public safety official suffered a fatal illness or injury while employed, but battled it, living longer than the 4 ½-year statute of limitation for seeking death benefits.
Opponents said that AB 2451 could cost local governments massive sums in years to come. Government simply can't afford padding employee benefits in an era of economic distress, they argued.
The bill cleared the Assembly by a vote of 57-19, and the Senate, 21-8.