An Assembly panel on Thursday approved legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D., Troy Singleton and Majority Leader Louis Greenwald that would significantly boost survivor benefits for children of State Police Officers and police and firefighters who die in the line of duty.
Specifically, the bill (A-3610) would increase the percentage of final compensation or adjusted final compensation from 20 percent to 70 percent for a surviving child of a State Police Officer, police officer or firefighter, or for surviving children in equal shares, when there is no surviving spouse or the surviving spouse dies.
"This is about doing right by the family members of our first responders who put their life on the line every day in service to their fellow man," said Conaway (D-Burlington). "The recent passing of Trooper Cullen was a tragic reminder of the need to make sure the children of our bravest and finest are taken care of should their parent give the ultimate sacrifice."
"We're talking about public servants that go out each and every day and put their life on the line to protect and care for others," said Singleton (D-Burlington). "Should they give the ultimate sacrifice, we should be prepared to do the same for their family members, especially if they're children."
"Boosting compensation for the children of our law enforcement and firefighters is both the fair and compassionate thing to do," said Greenwald (D-Camden/Burlington). "No amount of money can bring back their parent, but at least we can help make sure they are cared for as a small token of our appreciation and gratitude."
Under current law, if a member of the State Police Retirement System or the Police and Firemen's Retirement System dies in the performance of duty, the surviving spouse receives a pension of 70 percent of the officer's final compensation or adjusted final compensation, as appropriate, for the use of that spouse and the children of the deceased.
If there is no surviving spouse or in case the spouse dies, 20 percent of the final compensation, or adjusted final compensation, as the case may be, is paid annually to one surviving child; 35 percent to two surviving children in equal shares; and 50 percent to three or more children in equal shares. If there is no surviving spouse or child, 25 percent of final compensation is paid annually to one surviving parent or 40 percent to two surviving parents in equal shares.
Current law defines "adjusted final compensation" as the amount of final compensation increased by the same percentage that would be applied in any adjustments of the compensation schedule of active members after the member's death and before the date on which the deceased member of the retirement system would have accrued 25 years of service under an assumption of continuous service, at which time the amount resulting from such increases becomes fixed and will be the basis for annual cost of living adjustments, if any.
Under the bill, an eligible child is someone who is 18 years of age or older and enrolled in a secondary school, or under the age of 24 and enrolled in a degree program in an institution of higher education for at least 12 credit hours in each semester, provided that the member died in active service as a result of an accident met in the actual performance of duty at some definite time and place, and the death was not the result of the member's willful misconduct.
If enacted, the changes would apply to a benefit initially granted on or after January 1, 2016 to a surviving child. However, the increase in the amount of the benefit would only be paid prospectively. No retroactive payments would be made.
The bill was approved by the Assembly State and Local Government chaired by Singleton.