Governor signs local state senator’s bill in support of families of fallen officers
Bill authored by California State Senator John Laird
– This week, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 850 authored by local State Senator John Laird to ensure families of fallen officers receive their full survival benefits regardless of family structure.
“I am thankful for Governor Newsom, Senator Laird, and the legislature for correcting this antiquated law. Families come in all forms and children of fallen first responders will now receive equal benefits regardless of their parents’ marital status,” shared Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart. “I think about Sgt. Gutzwiller every day and I wish we lived in a world where we didn’t have to advocate for families of murdered peace officers. However, the reality is that law enforcement is an inherently dangerous profession, and we need to support, and hold close those families whose loved one made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Senator Laird introduced SB 850 in honor of Deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, a 14-year veteran of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. On June 6, 2020, while responding to a call for service, Sgt. Gutzwiller was fatally shot in an ambush. He was survived by his partner of over ten years who was pregnant with their child and their young son.
Unfortunately, their modern family is not recognized by state law. According to current law, if a public safety officer is killed in the line of duty, the surviving spouse qualifies for an additional benefit for the officer’s children. However, the statute is silent if there is no surviving spouse, meaning the children and or stepchildren lose out.
“Governor Newsom’s signature of SB 850 is a powerful recognition of the diverse families and loved ones that support those who devote their lives to protecting our communities,” said Laird. “All families, regardless of their make-up, deserve support in their time of need”
In 2003, the definition of “child” was expanded to include stepchildren. Nearly twenty years later, Newsom’s signature of SB 850 will update state law to reflect today’s modern family structure.
The Special Death Benefit allowance is payable to eligible survivors of deceased state safety, peace officer/firefighter, industrial or patrol members and local safety members who died because of a work-related injury or illness. According to CalPERS, three families with a total of six children will receive the benefits they are due as a result of SB 850’s passage.
Governor Newsom’s signature of SB 850 into law provides that the surviving families will receive an additional percentage of the officer’s final compensation as a survivor’s benefit.
The bill takes effect on Jan. 1, 2023.
Senator John Laird represents the 17th State Senate District, which includes all of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties, the majority of Monterey County, as well as parts of Santa Clara County. He previously served as the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, member of the State Integrated Waste Management Board, a member of the State Assembly, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Aids Project, and two terms as Santa Cruz Mayor. His lifetime of public service and social justice advocacy saw him become one of the first openly gay mayors to serve in the United States. Senator Laird has been a long-time resident of Santa Cruz with his spouse John Flores.
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