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Gov. Rick Scott Signs Death-Benefits Bill For First Responders

City of Coral Gables Facebook
A Coral Gables fire truck

Gov. Rick Scott signed a measure Friday that will help families of first responders who are enrolled in the Florida Retirement System and get killed in the line of duty.

The death-benefits bill (SB 7012), a priority of Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was among 17 bills Scott signed into law.

"When people give their lives in the service of our state, the least we can do is make sure we help provide for the families they leave behind," Gardiner said in a prepared statement.

The law covers first responders killed since July 1, 2013.

Gardiner pushed for the bill in large part because of Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Jonathan "Scott" Pine, who in February 2014 was shot and killed while chasing a burglary suspect.

Pine, who had joined the sheriff's office in 2011, was married and had three children. While enrolled in the retirement system's 401(k)-style investment plan, Pine's family was not eligible for survivor benefits beyond what was accrued during his three years of service, Gardiner noted.

"We do not want the spouses of Florida's fallen heroes to struggle to meet the basic needs of their children," Gardiner said in a prepared statement.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, and Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, ensures that survivors of first responders killed in the line of duty who were members of the investment plan are eligible for the same benefits as those enrolled in the state's traditional pension plan.

It also provides for the lifetime of a beneficiary the full monthly salary of any "special risk" class member who had been enrolled in the state retirement system.

Special-risk members include law-enforcement officers, firefighters, correctional officers, emergency-medical technicians, paramedics, probation officers and other employees whose jobs may put them at risk.

"With recent world events, it's more important now than ever to honor our brave men and women who put the safety of others above their own," Scott said in a prepared statement.

Among the other bills signed by Scott was a measure (SB 1602) that will require the installation of sensors in new elevators in private homes. The bill was prompted by the death of a Manatee County boy who was pinned by an elevator at his home while looking for a hamster in an elevator shaft.

Another bill (HB 7076) will move the start of the 2018 legislative session to Jan. 9, nearly two months earlier than usual.

The state Constitution requires legislative sessions to start on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March in odd-numbered years. It also sets that same date for even-numbered years, though it leaves flexibility for lawmakers to make changes in even-numbered years.