The Senate voted unanimously Monday to expand benefits for the family left behind when a police officer or firefighter dies in the line of duty.
But on the same day, police called on lawmakers to go further.
The problem, police agencies and their advocates said at a news conference, is that the Senate left unchanged a restriction that they see as unfair to surviving spouses who remarry. Widows and widowers have to give up their lifetime benefits if they find a new spouse.
Normandy Park Police Chief Rick Kieffer told reporters that the cutoff “holds our spouses hostage. We are creating a generation of widows that can’t remarry.”
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The House voted last month to allow remarried widows to keep workers’ compensation benefits, a provision taken out of House Bill 2519 by the Senate at the recommendation of the Ways and Means Committee. Reasons for the change weren’t discussed in the committee or on the Senate floor, but lawmakers are operating off estimates that continuing the benefits would cost the state $1 million next year and $36,000 a year in the future, even as they grapple with a budget crisis.
“I would absolutely, positively say yes to all these things if we were in a budget surplus time,” said Rep. Brad Klippert, a Benton County sheriff’s deputy who opposes portions of the bill, including the remarriage change.
More than 12 years after the death of her husband, Tacoma police officer William Lowry, Jolin Lowry hasn’t remarried. She said she came close twice, but the relationships ended because she didn’t want to lose the death benefits that help her take care of her daughter.
“The new man is not my daughter’s father, so is he supposed to pay for her activities and her college and hopefully one day her wedding?” Lowry asked.
Lowry, Kieffer and others gathered for a news conference Monday at the Lakewood Police Department, surrounded by reminders of the November slayings of four Lakewood officers. The group said the state has a duty to fallen officers to provide their spouses with benefits for life even if they don’t have children to support.
A widow never stops dealing with the reality of her husband’s death in the line of duty, even if she remarries, said Renee Maher, whose husband, Patrick, a Federal Way police officer, died in 2003.
If the House holds its ground on the remarriage issue, the bill will go into negotiations, where police hope the House will prevail.
The bill also guarantees free college tuition to the survivors of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty and allows them to collect lifetime pensions regardless of how long their loved ones worked. Today, universities decide whether to offer the tuition break, and lifetime pensions go only to the families of officers who held the badge for at least 10 years before their deaths.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826