Bill expands public safety survivor death benefits

Jerry BrownSACRAMENTO, Calif.: Survivors of peace officers and firefighters will have more time to file for death benefits if they can show their spouse or partner fell victim to certain diseases while they were working, under a bill Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law.

The bill nearly doubles the time period for survivors to file a workers’ compensation claim from the time a public safety officer contracts one of four conditions that are presumed to be work-related. They are cancer, tuberculosis, blood-borne infectious diseases and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly known as MRSA, a bacterial infection that resists many kinds of antibiotics.

The time limit now is 4.5 years but goes to eight years under AB1035.

Brown signed the bill after vetoing two earlier, broader, attempts by Assemblyman John Perez, D-Los Angeles, who stepped down as Assembly speaker.

Brown previously cited the potential costs, but said in a veto message that he signed the bill after a recent study projected that the measure could affect about 20 people a year across California because it applies only if a disease is diagnosed during active service.

A rough estimate by the state’s Commission on Health and Safety and Workers’ Compensation cited by legislative analysts also projects that the longer filing period will lead to increased payouts costing local governments up to $5 million annually.

The bill’s signing benefits Perez, who is running a tight race for state controller with fellow Democrat Betty Yee, currently a member of the state Board of Equalization, and Fresno mayor Ashley Swearengin, a Republican.

Organizations representing firefighters and peace officers have given his campaign nearly $82,000.

California Professional Fire Fighters were his 10th largest donor in 2011-2012, giving his legislative account $15,600, according to a compilation by Maplight.

Opponents of the bill included the California State Association of Counties and League of California Cities. -AP

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