If anyone needed further evidence that certain public employee unions have inordinate control over the Legislature, look no further than lawmakers' overwhelming approval of a bill that doubles the statute of limitations for death benefits for police and firefighters.
Despite opposition from beleaguered California cities and counties, Assembly Bill 2451 by Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez easily passed out of both houses of the Legislature. It now sits on Gov. Jerry Brown's desk, where it awaits final action. The governor should veto it.
The bill is not the outrageous giveaway it was when it shot out of the Assembly back in May with only four "no" votes. After several critical editorials in The Bee, Pérez scaled back the benefit. It no longer eliminates the statute of limitation on death benefits entirely. In its original form the bill would have allowed survivors of public safety officers who succumb from cancer or heart disease or other ailments presumed under law to be job-related to collect benefits worth $250,000 at a minimum, decades after they retire.
Under the amended bill, the deceased public safety officer would have to die within about nine years rather than the 4 1/2 years set in current law, for his survivors to be eligible for the benefit. Heart attacks wouldn't count. Also, the relative seeking the benefit would have to be a dependent of the officer at the time of the officer's death, not a grown son or daughter or brother-in-law, who might have lived with the deceased officer decades before.
The scaled-back bill greatly reduces the potential liability for the state, counties and cities. But given the financial crisis state and local governments face, the question remains: Why should the Legislature place any additional financial burden on cities, counties and the state?
The governor recently reimposed furloughs on state workers. He is crisscrossing the state begging voters to approve tax increases to prevent more massive cuts to schools.
The city of Stockton filed for bankruptcy protection, in part because of overly generous retirement benefits it had granted to police and firefighters. Other California cities are on the brink. They are laying off workers, including cops and firefighters, and asking those still on the job to accept furloughs, forgo pay raises and contribute more for benefits.
In the midst of it all, a clueless Legislature ladles out another costly benefit to the most lavishly paid and pensioned public employees in the state police, firefighters and prison guards. It's hard not to conclude that certain powerful special interests police, fire and correctional officer unions, chief among them own this Legislature.
Now the question becomes: Do they own the governor, too? Will he sign this bill?