Line of Duty Act overhaul on its way to full Senate

3/1/2016

By MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times-Dispatch

A major overhaul of Virginia’s Line of Duty Act is on its way to the full Senate after speeding through the Finance Committee on Tuesday with the support of representatives of state police, local governments, fire chiefs and volunteer rescue squads.

House Bill 1345, introduced by House Appropriations Chairman S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, would put in place a new framework for handling death benefits, disability claims, and insurance benefits for public employees killed or injured in the course of their duties.

Jones carried legislation adopted last year with a re-enactment clause. It would move administration of the program from the treasury department to the Virginia Retirement System to determine eligibility, and to the state human resources department to administer benefits that have grown dramatically in scope and cost since the law first was adopted in 1972.

The proposed new system would establish one plan for administering health insurance benefits to people injured in the line of duty and their families, saving government employers an estimated $30 million over 10 years, he said.

Jones promised to develop a source of sustainable funding for the program, which originally was supported by state general fund revenue. In 2010, the state created a separate fund with employer premiums and interest earnings from assets managed by VRS.

“This has been a concern every year, as we all know — how are we going to fund this?” he said.

The new law would change the health benefits for people who qualify on or after July 1, 2017, requiring them in most cases to rely on Medicare for health benefits after they turn 65. It also would require periodic review of a person’s disability status and end benefits for surviving spouses of those killed in the line of duty after they remarry, as well as for spouses of disabled beneficiaries after divorce.

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission issued a study in 2014 that recommended a complete overhaul of the Line of Duty Act program, beginning with transferring its administration to VRS from the Department of Accounts. The VRS completed a study last fall that made a series of recommendations addressed in the pending legislation.

In other action Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee:

  • approved legislation to allow the Richmond Metropolitan Transportation Authority to build and operate a new civic arena to replace the decrepit Richmond Coliseum.

House Bill 1237 is sponsored by Del. G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond. He told the committee that the regional authority cannot undertake any project without approval from all of its members — Henrico and Chesterfield counties, as well as Richmond City Council and the mayor.

“I don’t think they will do anything crazy,” he said.

  • adopted a bill to allow auxiliary grants, financed by the state and localities, to provide supportive housing for as many as 60 people with mental illness, rather than adult homes and assisted-living facilities that supporters said may be less well-suited for their needs.

Del. Christopher K. Peace, R-Hanover, who sponsored House Bill 675, said the legislation would create “a gateway” for people with mental illness to receive less-intensive “step-down services” in their communities.