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05/30/2017
 
Posted By: Council 93

Massachusetts Senate votes to expand death benefit for public employees
BY GREG SAULMON
Mass Live
gsaulmon@repub.com

BOSTON -- The state Senate on Thursday approved a budget amendment filed in honor of Longmeadow Department of Public Works foreman Warren P. Cowles that would expand a benefit for family members of public employees killed on the job.

The vote moves the measure, proposed by Sen. Eric P. Lesser, one step closer to making the $300,000 benefit available to the family of Cowles, who died in a collision with a train while plowing snow on March 14.

If it survives negotiations in the Senate-House conference committee and the governor's final budget review, the amendment will retroactively benefit the Cowles family.

Under current state law, only the family of first responders who die in the line of duty are eligible for the benefit. Gov. Charlie Baker signed a bill in March doubling the benefit from $150,000 to $300,000.

"A life is a life, and if a public worker dies in the line of duty, their families should be eligible for the same benefit," Lesser, D-Longmeadow, said in a statement. "This amendment is about equity and fairness to all those who do the public's work and put their own safety at risk to serve their communities."

As written in the amendment, those who would qualify for the benefit include "any public employee working for state or county government, a Massachusetts public higher education institution, a municipality, public school department, or public school district or public authority who, while in the performance of his/her duties and as a result of incident, accident or violence, was killed or sustained injuries which were the direct and proximate cause of his/her death."

The benefit would not apply in the case of a worker who dies of a health issue that happens to strike during work hours, according to Lesser's office.

"Other examples of eligible public workers would be a teacher attacked by a student or a forest ranger who has a tree limb fall on him after a storm," a spokesman for the senator wrote in a follow-up email to The Republican. "The point of this is to protect public workers who go to their job on an otherwise normal day with no expectation of harm and die while they were in the process of doing their work on behalf of the public."

In the statement released by Lesser's office, Frank Moroney, Executive Director of Council 93 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said the amendment recognizes "the unsung heroes of the public-sector workforce."

"It's clear that different workers face different degrees of hazards on the job," Moroney said. "But there is an element of danger in every public-sector job and when that danger results in death, then everything should be equal and the spouses and children left behind should be treated with the same dignity and respect as public safety workers."

Lesser filed the amendment after State Rep. Jay D. Livingston, D-Boston, introduced a similar bill last year. Livingstone's proposal was referred to the Legislature's Committee on Public Service in January.

Money for the benefit would come from the public employees' pension fund -- so, according to Lesser's office, it is "revenue neutral."

The amendment was part of the Senate's $40.8 million budget proposal for fiscal 2018 passed Thursday night. The fiscal year begins July 1.



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