CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A Senate committee voted Friday for a
bill to allow spouses of police officers and firefighters who die
in the line of duty to keep their worker compensation benefits
In Nevada, the surviving spouse of a worker who dies on the job
is entitled to a death benefit of two-thirds of the average salary
of the worker, up to a cap that is adjusted annually. Those
benefits cease when the surviving spouse dies or remarries. The
current maximum benefit is about $3,200 a month.
SB3, as amended and approved on a 4-1 vote in the Commerce and
Labor Committee, would mandate that the death benefits continue in
the event of another marriage by surviving spouses of police and
firefighters who die in the line of duty.
Nevada worker compensation law already includes several
exceptions for police and firefighters. For example, survivors of
police officers and firefighters who die from heart or lung disease
automatically get worker compensation benefits, regardless of the
circumstances of death. In other professions, a survivor must prove
the illness was work-related.
Representatives of several police and firefighter groups spoke
in favor of the bill, saying that first responders deserve a
special status, as well as widows of slain officers.
Ronald Dreher, a lobbyist for the Peace Officers Research
Association, said that his group wasn't opposed to offering
benefits after remarriage to anyone entitled to worker compensation
benefits, and pushed to pass such a bill in 2001, but failed.
"We're trying to open the door so everyone can get this benefit
eventually," said Dreher. "But the legislative process works in
Jim Jeppson, a risk manager for Washoe County who approves death
benefit payments, spoke in opposition, saying the bereaved spouse
of a dead park employee or road worker shouldn't be treated
differently than the spouse of a sheriff's deputy.
"I believe this bill is unfairly discriminatory. If you're
going to change this benefit, let's change it for everyone."
Sen. Warren Hardy, R-Las Vegas, who voted for the bill, said
that the state had a special obligation to its first responders,
but he'd like to change the law for all workers.
"I hope we can find a way in the state of Nevada to eliminate
the remarriage penalty for everybody," said Hardy. "But I would
hate to have this bill held up while we have that discussion."
Sen. Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, cast the lone opposing vote,
saying she agreed with Sen. Hardy about the need to change the law
for all workers.
"What we do for people who get injured at work needs to be fair
across the board," said Carlton. "I think I have an obligation to
speak up for those other wives or spouses that will not be able to
benefit from this."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)