Sadly, our country has experienced another deadly wave of attacks on the brave men and women who wear the badge. Five officers killed in four days. Words cannot express our collective grief. Please stay alert and look after each other.

Despite widespread neglect by far too many of our elected leaders (not to mention cultural and business leaders), the Florida Legislature is making strides to further protect and honor the sacrifices of law enforcement officers.

This week legislation enhancing the penalty for terroristic threats against law enforcement officers and their families (SB 436) advanced through the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.

The Senate and House proposed separate increases to the FRS death benefit for the survivors of an officer killed in the line of duty (more information to follow).

Finally, HB 1009, which attempts to add a homestead tax exemption for first responders totally and permanently injured in the line of duty, passed the full House of Representatives.

There were a few legislative wrinkles thrown at us this week, too.

Our busy Monday did not go as planned. Neither, the career development plan, nor the protection of a murder witness legislation were heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. The panel took up a proposal to address the method by which Florida sentences an individual to death. Recently, Florida’s method was ruled unconstitutional. As you can imagine the discussion was lengthy. The good news is that both of our priority bills were rescheduled to be heard on Tuesday, February 16.

Additionally, the long rumored FRS pension reform plan (HB 7107)that the Florida House of Representatives desires to achieve was heard in the House’s State Affairs Committee. There are three provisions contained within the reform package:

  • Allowing employees who previously left the investment plan and took a disbursement the ability to return to employment and re-enroll in the investment plan. This provision is limited to employees who were previously enrolled in the investment prior to an employment separation and disbursement. Former pension plan retirees will not be allowed to enroll into the investment plan.
    • Increasing the investment plan death benefit for survivors to an equal amount to the pension plan death benefit (half of the officer’s salary at the time of death). Currently, the investment plan death benefit only provides the survivor with the contents of account at the time of death.
      • Changing the default option for newly hired employees after July 1, 2017 to the investment plan instead of the pension plan. The new employee will still have the option to choose the pension plan during the first 8 months of employment. The once in a career switch option will also still be available to the new employees.
      • Although the bill does contain two important improvements to the overall plan, we are not supporting the legislation at this time. Our concerns about the economic viability of the investment plan given the incredibly low contribution levels far outweigh our support for the death benefit provision and the re-enrollment option. We are hoping to remove the default provision from the bill. Fortunately, the Senate has passed separate death benefit and re-enrollment bills that do not contain the default provision. HB 7107 passed the committee by an unusually close 10-8 vote. Negotiations are underway.

        We thank our elected leaders from Dade County PBA and Southwest Florida PBA who came to help us lobby this week. From Dade County PBA – PBA President John Rivera, Executive Board Member Pablo Lima, and Executive Director Blanca Greenwood. From Southwest Florida PBA – President Mick McHale who is also the President of the National Association of Police Organizations.

        Here’s a brief summary of Senate’s death benefit legislation:

        First Responder Death Benefits – SB 7012 by Senator Jeremy Ring.
        The legislation will increase the surviving benefit for a spouse, or children of a special risk member killed in the line of duty to 100% of the salary at the time of death. Currently, a spouse receives 50% of the salary at the time of death if the officer was enrolled in the pension plan. Investment plan employees were not able to provide the salary benefit to their survivors. The legislation allows the surviving spouse of an investment plan employee the option of taking the 100% salary benefit in lieu of the investment plan option. The investment plan option provides the survivor with the contents of the account at the time of death.

        The Florida Senate unanimously passed this legislation with all 40 Senators signing on as co-sponsors. It was a very powerful moment of support for the family of Orange County Deputy Sheriff Scott Pine (His wife and children were in the chamber’s gallery) who was killed in the line of duty two years ago.

        That is all for this week. Until next week, may God bless you and please stay safe.

        Matt Puckett
        Executive Director
        Florida PBA