Senator Atkins Introduces Bill to Extend Access to Benefits for Families of Deceased Public Safety Officers

February 12, 2018

Today, Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced SB 1086, legislation that extends the window of time during which the family of a public safety officer whose death is attributable to certain work-related illnesses is eligible to collect survivor death benefits.

“First responders such as firefighters and police officers bravely rush into dangerous situations in order to keep us safe. In some cases, years pass before they succumb to illnesses directly related to their actions,” Atkins said. “SB 1086 honors their service and sacrifice by ensuring that their families don’t fall through an arbitrary crack in eligibility rules for survivor death benefits.”

Before 2015, if a public safety officer died more than 240 weeks – or a little more than four-and-a-half years – after being diagnosed with a work-related illness, his or her family became ineligible for worker’s compensation-related death benefits.

In 2015, the Legislature and Governor Jerry Brown extended the eligibility period for families to access these death benefits from 240 weeks post-diagnosis to 420 weeks – or a little more than eight years – for instances of work-related cancer, tuberculosis and blood-borne infectious disease. However, the timeline for an officer’s family to access these benefits is set to revert back to 240 weeks on Jan. 1, 2019.

SB 1086 permanently eliminates the sunset on the extended period of 420 weeks.

“Families of police and firefighters stricken with job-caused illnesses shouldn’t have to pay a penalty if their loved one lives ‘too long,’ said Lou Paulson, president of California Professional Firefighters. “Easing the arbitrary, century-old ‘death clock’ has helped ease the burden for a few surviving families without imposing significant burdens on taxpayers.”