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Council voices concern over death benefit bill
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The Turlock City Council on Tuesday took a stand against a bill in the California Legislature which would offer public safety personnel death benefits long after they stop working.
Already, public safety employees like firefighters and police officers are offered benefits in certain instances for deaths which occur within 240 weeks of leaving their jobs. The new bill, Assembly Bill 2451, would extend that period to within 480 weeks - more than 9 years.
Employees are not required to prove that their death was caused by their job; the measure is presumptive, automatically assigning blame to cities for wide-ranging diseases such as cancer, blood-borne diseases, MRSA, and tuberculosis. An earlier version of the bill would have included heart trouble and pneumonia as covered illnesses, and have extended the time to file a claim to within a year of the former employee's death, regardless of age.
The bill is of "great concern" to the City of Turlock, as each case can result in a payment of $500,000. Los Angeles County expects the bill to cost their jurisdiction approximately $20 million annually.
"Our elected officials are not representing us in this situation," Councilwoman Mary Jackson said. "This type of bill isn't healthy, and it's not fiscally responsible in any way."
Councilman Bill DeHart voted against opposing the measure, stating he supported Turlock's public safety personnel. Councilwoman Amy Bublak recused herself from the discussion due to a conflict of interest, as she works for the Modesto Police Department.
Other council members agreed that employees should be paid benefits if their death is directly attributable to their service, but disagreed with the presumptive aspect of the bill which automatically assigns liability without a need to show cause.
"There is an issue there, but it has to be handled in some way where it's not just automatically (the city's) responsibility," Councilman Forrest White said.
The bill, authored by Assembly Speaker John Pérez (D-Los Angeles), has passed both the California Assembly and Senate, and now awaits preparation by the Chief Clerk before Gov. Jerry Brown (D) will consider signing the measure into law.

On Tuesday, the Turlock City Council also:
• Preliminarily approved the construction of an O'Reilly Auto Parts at the southeast corner of Geer Road and Wayside Drive. The development requires special rezoning approval, as the site was formerly home to two single family homes.

• Approved allocating funding to plant trees, shrubbery, and native plants in the Golden State Boulevard median in northern Turlock.
• Authorized expending $251,318.25 to purchase 45 mobile workstation computers for Turlock Police vehicles. Funds for the upgrade were budgeted for last year, but the purchase was delayed when staff learned Motorola intended to release an upgraded version of the computer in September.
• Issued a proclamation in honor of the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
• Approved a memorandum of understanding between the Stanislaus County Office of Education, the City of Turlock, and the Turlock Unified School District to provide afterschool programs at local schools.
The program will be offered for the sixth year, thanks to Proposition 49-funded grants, tallying $84,150 for the elementary sites and $67,510.01 for the junior high.
• Conferenced with labor negotiators representing all city unions and unrepresented employees in closed session.