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Jon Fleischman

I Guess Public Safety Unions Just Get Whatever They Want

Today there is a very important article for you to read in the FlashReport by longtime FR contributor Bruce Bialosky.  Bruce, a certified public accountant, pens a lot of sobering material bringing into question the sanity of many policies enacted by politicians at both the state and national levels.  In his column today, Bruce shines a bright spotlight on a particularly egregious piece of bad legislation that has almost finished winding its way to the Governor’s desk — only a State Senate floor vote remains for Assembly Bill 2451.  AB 2451 represents a giveaway to public safety unions that reminds me of SB 400 back in 1999 which allowed for the outrageous practice of granting retroactive pension increases.

Bruce goes into some detail on AB 2451, and this blog post should be read after you read his column.  But the gist of the legislation is that current law says that if a public safety worker dies within a five year period of retiring, except in some minor exceptions, their survivors can file a workers’ compensation claim, if there is either a nexus to the cause of death and a previous workers’ compensation claim filed by the decedent, or a strong circumstantial evidentiary claim that would lead one to believe that the cause of death was related to an occupational injury.

This new legislation is in the category of, “You simply cannot make this stuff up.”

The new legislation will first and foremost extend the time for which a valid claim can be filed to up to one year after the former public safety worker passes away.  That, in and of itself is not necessarily egregious, but of course should be evaluated based on the affordabilty of additional costs associated with the change and doing right by the families of those that have lost a loved one because of their service to the public.  The egregious part of this bill is that it creates a “presumption” that the cause of death of a former public safety worker, no matter how many years later, is because of that public safety job.  That is extremely egregious.

These kinds of “presumptions” don’t take place in the private sector.  There you must actually prove that there is a nexus to the job.

So what causes of death are listed in AB 2451 as being those for which the “presumption” is that their public safety occupation is the cause of death?  Heart disease.  Hernias.  Pneumonia.  Cancer.  Tuberculoses.  MRSA skin infections.  Bloodborne infectious disease.  Seriously.

So let’s be clear here with an example.  If a former police officer, who retires (predictably) at the age of 50, lives to the ripe age of 90, where he succumbs to pneumonia (a fairly common cause of death in elderly people in general), the presumption under this legislation is that the pneumonia was caused by the his law enforcement occupation, and the burden is on the former employer to prove otherwise, or the taxpayers are on the hook for benefits to the survivor(s).

Frankly, it’s already bad enough that there are a serious of carved out causes of death under current law for which a former public safety employee dies within five or ten years of leaving that job for which the “presumption” is that the public safety job was the cause.  That’s terrible public policy.  There should always be a burden to provide evidence of a nexus between a cause of death and the occupation.   That’s how workers’ comp is handled in the private sector.  But not in the public sector where the public employee unions get whatever they want.

For this conservative columnist, it is particularly egregious that the vast majority of Assembly Republicans voted for this legislation — causing one to wonder if they didn’t read it or understand it — or cynically whether the political threat of crossing public safety unions has an impact of some of their votes.

Speaking of politics, it is worth mentioning that strategically it makes no sense for Republicans to put up votes for any bills that increase benefits for public employees before their unions come to the table to develop real pension reform solutions.

Even though AB 2451 seems to be “fast tracked” through the Senate, skipping an Appropriations Committee hearing despite the estimates that this could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, I am hopeful that Senators will wake up and smell the coffee.  Whether you are a Democrat or a Republican legislator, you have to understand that putting aside the propriety of the underlying benefits, that the financial hit to local governments wouldn’t come at  worse time.

It’s pretty bad when even the left-of-center Sacramento Bee Editorial page pens a lamenting editorial on the overwhelming Assembly vote in favor of this bill.  Assembly Republicans who should now be realizing they cast bad votes should scramble to let their colleagues in the Senate to vote no.

Let me close that when these kinds of egregious bills are flying around at the end of session, there’s a tendency to just “give the facts and relevant opinion” — and it’s worth pausing to make it clear that I understand that this is a sensitive subject.  There is no doubt that public safety jobs (among others) do put lives at risk.  I have a perspective that is shaped from seven years working full time for a law enforcement agency (albeit in a non-sworn position) and almost a decade now of serving as a POST-certified uniformed reserve deputy sheriff.  It is even with this experience that I simply can’t accept the idea that there should not be circumstantial evidence that a cause of death has a nexus to a public safety job as a condition of getting a taxpayer-funded benefit.

AB 2451, simply put, is a gift of taxpayer funds to a special class of employees and former employees.

One Response to “I Guess Public Safety Unions Just Get Whatever They Want”

  1. Bob Evans Says:

    My goodness. Weren’t you one of the people, Jon, who was hysterical over crime in this state and advocated a lock um up and throw away the key solution? Could it be that this bill is an unintended consequence of your and other leading lights of the far far right that, in effect, put the public safety unions in the cat bird seat? Maybe it’s time to cut the pay and benefits of the people in public safety. Are you going to lead the charge, take the bull by the tail and face up to the situation, Jon?