If a police officer or firefighter dies of a work-related injury or illness within 4 years and 8 months of retirement, their family can currently file for a hefty worker's compensation payment.
A proposed Assembly bill would extend that period to 9 years and 3 months — costing California's local governments substantial sums.
This week, the Lodi City Council opposed that extension, drawing criticism from a representative of the city's firefighter union.
Councilman Bob Johnson suggested the city write a letter opposing the legislation because he is concerned that expanding the timeline would cost the city significantly more money.
The council approved drafting a letter in a 4-0 vote during Tuesday morning's study session. Councilman Alan Nakanishi was absent.
Mayor JoAnne Mounce signed off on an opposition letter Wednesday.
"This increased benefit will impose additional costs on public employers at a time when we can least afford it and when we are struggling to provide the most basic services," the letter said.
Under the bill, the law would remain mostly the same. The injury or illness still has to have occurred while on the job, and families must file a claim within a year of the firefighter or police officer's death.
Originally, Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, proposed the bill with no limits on the time frame of an employee's death, but he changed it on Tuesday to 480 weeks.
Lodi Firefighters Association President Brad Doell said he believes 480 weeks is a good compromise.
"Reading the bill and the amendments offered, the changes are fair and narrowed the scope of the bill. In turn, it reduced the economic liability to the city and the state," Doell said.
The time frame for people to file does need to be extended, Doell said. For many of the cancers most closely associated with firefighters, Doell said latency periods — the time from exposure to the first symptoms — are 60 months or longer. With blood-borne diseases, it can be 10 to 30 years.
Doell said he is frustrated the council would oppose the bill.
"By the city of Lodi writing an opinion piece saying the bill is unnecessary, I think what they are doing is banking on people dying after that 240 week limitation because now they are going to save money. Is that really the business you are in, gambling with people's health? I don't think that's fair at all," he said.
The League of California Cities opposes the bill because it would dramatically increase costs for local governments, according to a news release from the league.
"Death benefits are designed to provide protections against financial hardships when a public safety officer dies due to a job-related illness; this bill goes far beyond that purpose," according to a news release. "The liability to local government budgets is enormous."
Lodi deputy city manager Jordan Ayers said he did not have numbers specifically on families who have filed workers compensation claims after a family member died. Ayers cited numbers from The Sacramento Bee that stated on average each death benefit claim costs about $250,000 to $300,000.
"One of the telling things is the state's legislative analyst indicated they could not calculate the fiscal impact of the legislation but it would be in the millions range," he said.