Huge Costs for Local Govt if Bill on Death Benefit Claims Moves Forward; Never Vetted Properly
When a police officer or firefighter is killed in the line of duty, there is little objection to survivors receiving death benefits, but a piece of legislation backed by unions like the California Professional Firefighters would remove the statute of limitations for job-related survivor death benefits for these public safety workers. Consequently, Assembly Bill 2451 presents a real threat to the fiscal health of local governments and this overreach by powerful unions has sailed through the Legislature thus far. It was passed in the Assembly on a 69-4 vote and is waiting for a final vote in the Senate. Alarmingly, fiscal committees have not vetted the bill, so the fiscal ramifications for cities and counties never received proper analysis despite the warnings of local officials who argued it could threaten their cash-strapped budgets.
So why exactly is this bill particularly egregious? The Bee summarizes in a scathing editorial: “On the day AB 2451 becomes law, when any ex-firefighter dies of a heart attack at age 80 or cancer at age 90, his widow or children, or other relatives – the list of eligible survivors is extensive – becomes eligible for a benefit typically valued at between $250,000 and $300,000. It goes even further. If there are no survivors, the state can claim the benefit, with the money to be deposited into the uninsured employer benefit fund.” The bottom line is that survivors hypothetically could claim a death benefit worth a quarter of a million dollars (at minimum), even if a firefighter dies from a heart attack 25 years after retiring, thereby creating a taxpayer-funded life insurance policy for public safety workers.
The California State Association of Counties (CSAC), the Regional Council of Rural Counties (RCRC), the League of California Cities (LCC), the California Special Districts Association (CSDA) and the Association of California Healthcare Districts have all spoken out against AB 2451 due to the costs it would impose and the fact that services would probably have to be cut to pay for the benefit.
These local government groups sent a letter to the Legislature several months ago that laid out objections as follows:
“We believe that liberal standards for public safety officers already allow employees to get fairly compensated on the basis of a disease presumption when that injury is presumed to have job causation. Additionally, the injuries covered in AB 2451 do not have the same close connection to work exposures as do asbestosis and HIV, making it nearly impossible for employers to refute the claim.
AB 2451 would increase workers’ compensation costs for counties alone by roughly $60 million annually (based on an estimate of a $20 million cost increase to Los Angeles County by the Los Angeles County Chief Executive Office Risk Management Branch) at a time when local governments are struggling to provide vital services. This bill also erodes the original intent of the Workers’ Compensation Act and subsequent reforms to the system enacted in 2004, designed to provide fair and timely benefits to injured employees at a reasonable cost to employers.”
While amendments could be added to the bill, the Bee concisely notes that “It's stunning that those conversations are taking place at this late date and that a bill this fiscally irresponsible has gotten this far.”