Senate passes pension change in wake of Worcester officer’s death

Boston Statehouse

BOSTON (SHNS) – The Senate unanimously adopted an amendment Thursday to update the law related to pensions for the spouses of police, firefighters and correction officers who die in the line of duty, a change designed to benefit the family of Worcester Police Officer Enmanuel Familia, but not before one senator argued against its inclusion in a budget bill.

The amendment filed by Millbury Sen. Michael Moore, which is almost identical to a Rep. Timothy Whelan amendment adopted two weeks ago in the House, would provide a pension to a surviving spouse “if a police officer while in the performance of his duties and as the result of an accident that occurs while such officer is attempting to make a rescue of a member of the public or emergency personnel and sustains injuries which result in death.”

Familia, 38, died June 4 while attempting to rescue a drowning teenager at Green Hill Pond in Worcester. “We are dealing with a loophole. As currently written, the statute requires that the death of an officer occur in a vehicle accident or at the hands of another in order to qualify for these line of duty benefits,” Senate President Emerita Harriette Chandler of Worcester said. “Officer Familia clearly earned his opportunity to have officer line of duty benefits.”

Before the Senate took a roll call vote on the amendment, Sen. Becca Rausch of Needham rose to “express significant concern” that the amendment would make “a wholesale policy change about death benefits for all police officers,” would carry an unknown long-term financial impact to the state, and had not gone through the committee hearing process.

“Just as we, as a body, say consistently and even recently with regard to federal ARPA funds, we have to have good process. But with regard to this amendment, there has been no process at all,” she said. “Though this amendment has been characterized as closing a loophole, but whatever you call it, this is a permanent policy change with an unknown fiscal impact. Time and time again, this chamber routinely rejects any kind of permanent policy change in a budget.”

Other senators then rose to rebut Rausch’s argument and to support the amendment. Sen. Cindy Friedman of Arlington said the Senate “can’t always have these hard and fast rules that say we will never do policy in a budget or we will always do policy in a budget — that’s not how life works.” “I know we’ve heard about loopholes and process, but what about just doing the right thing?”

Sen. Anne Gobi of Spencer said. “This is the right thing to do and we should not ever lose sight of that.” The amendment was ultimately adopted with Rausch joining every other senator in a 40-0 roll call vote.

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