WEST NEW YORK, N.J. — Standing with dozens of firefighters and first responders, Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-32) announced legislation he will sponsor to establish a minimum survivor benefit for families of police officers, firefighters and other public safety employees killed while on active duty at a Press Conference today. The Speaker’s bill seeks to address a gap in coverage for recent hires whose introductory salaries do not leave their families with a sufficient benefit in the event they are killed while serving the public and performing their duty. The event was held at North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Headquarters in West New York, NJ. It was attended by North Bergen Mayor and State Senator Nick Sacco (D-32), Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D-32), West New York Mayor Felix Roque, Guttenberg Mayor Gerald Drasheff, North Hudson Firefighters Association President Tim Colacci and numerous active firefighters and their families. Speaker Prieto plans to introduce the legislation on Monday and the bills will be sponsored by the Speaker and Assemblywoman Jimenez in the Assembly and by Senator Sacco in the State Senate.
“Public Safety workers who run into danger when the rest of us run away are deserving of our respect and admiration, but there are also specific areas of public policy where we can show that we understand the sacrifices they make every day,” said Speaker Prieto. “This bill would close a gap in coverage that could leave families in dire financial straits if their loved one is killed pursuing a criminal or fighting a fire and they have not built up enough years on the job to earn a higher salary. This is common sense legislation that I am proud to support and I expect it to move quickly in the legislature.”
Current law allows for a survivor benefit to be granted to immediate family members of a first responder who dies in the line of duty of 70% of the person’s average salary in the previous 12 months. This potentially leaves families of recently hired employees, whose starting salaries average approximately $35,000, with survivor benefits of less than $25,000. Speaker Prieto’s legislation would establish a minimum survivor benefit to give families in this unthinkable situation a living wage and a chance to rebuild their lives. The benefit would be paid out from the Police and Fireman’s Retirement System pension in the same manner that current benefits are funded.
“When a firefighter or other first responder leaves their family to protect the lives of others and is killed while performing that duty, that member should not have to worry about what will happen to their family,” said Dominick Marino, President of the Professional Firefighters Association of New Jersey. “I thank Speaker Prieto for introducing this most important legislation and support it.”
Speaker Prieto directed his staff to draft the bill after discussions with Colacci and the North Hudson Firefighters Association, who brought the issue to his attention. The bill comes at a time when first responders are facing danger on a frequent basis, with recent tragedies such as the death of New Jersey State Police Trooper Sean Cullen, Virginia police officer Ashley Guindon who was killed on her first day of duty and Jersey City Police Officer Melvin Santigo, who was killed in 2014, fresh on the minds of many.
“This bill would adjust the line of duty survivor benefit to the level it was originally intended to be at before the unforeseen impacts that arbitration reforms have had in recent years, which reduced starting salaries and led to this gap in coverage,” said Tim Colacci. “When we brought this issue to the Speaker’s attention he listened, became engaged and acted swiftly to take this burden away from family members of first responders. We will be forever grateful for his support.”