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Bill would increase benefits of correctional officers' families

March 30, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - A bill to increase death benefits to the families of correctional officers killed in the line of duty got a warm reception in the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday in a hearing that was little more than a formality.

Sponsored by Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, the bill establishes a special death benefit for members of the Correctional Officers' Retirement System who are killed in the line of duty. The surviving spouse or minor children would get a one-time repayment of the accumulated contributions and an annual payment equal to two-thirds of the officer's average final salary.

Munson acknowledged that he had based his bill on one filed by Appropriations Committee Chairman Norman Conway. After Conway outlined the contents of the bill as amended by the Senate, Munson added, "Most important of all, it was your bill."

The Senate version was approved unanimously by that body earlier this month; Conway's bill has been approved by both houses. Munson said Gov. Robert Ehrlich has already promised to sign the bill.

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The benefit will be retroactive to Jan. 1, so that the family of Officer Jeffery Wroten, who was shot while on duty in January, can take advantage of it.

Sue Esty, legislative director for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 92, was present for the bill hearing and afterward thanked Munson for supporting the officers' issues this year. Esty had told Munson's Senate Budget and Taxation Committee earlier this month that Wroten's death had "sent shockwaves throughout the state," especially for correctional officers. "The awareness of where it leaves the five children is very acute," she said.

That committee had responded by giving unanimous approval to the bill right after its hearing.

Another bill, filed by Sen. James DeGrange, D-Anne Arundel, raises the current death benefit payment from $50,000 to $125,000 for law enforcement officers, correctional officers, volunteer or career firefighters or rescue squad members and members of the state Fire Marshal's office. That bill won unanimous approval from the Senate last week and is pending in the House Appropriations Committee. It, too, is retroactive to Jan. 1.

Senate bills 885 and 388, House bill 673

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