Senator Josh Newman (D-Orange County) introduced Senate Bill 835 to allow family members of a legislative employee who dies before reaching retirement age to remain on the Legislature’s health plan for up to 120 days.
For most state employees who die while in state service, the State of California is required to continue paying employer contributions for the employee’s spouse or other eligible family members for up to 120 days. This policy provides the family with a sensible grace period and prevents a lapse in coverage.
In contrast, in the event that an active employee of the Legislature dies before reaching retirement age, current law requires health insurance coverage to terminate the first day of the month following the employee’s death. Consequently, coverage for the deceased employee’s family members terminates on that date as well.
“This common-sense measure will ensure that the families of deceased legislative employees will be afforded a just and decent 120-day grace period to process their grief in the aftermath of a tragedy,” said Senator Newman.
The Legislature contracts with the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) to provide legislative staff and eligible family members with health benefits.
The ramifications of the current benefit termination policy for legislative employees became apparent late last August when Marc Hanson, then Chief of Staff to Senator Josh Newman, died suddenly at age 46. Hanson’s widow, Shaina, was informed that their CalPERS health benefit would terminate at the end of August, forcing her to scramble for alternative coverage even as she was in the midst of mourning and making funeral and other arrangements.
Under the provisions of SB 835, the survivors of legislative employees who die prior to retirement will be spared the kind of nightmare scenario that the Hanson family was forced to endure. SB 835 will provide parity for families of legislative employees following the death of their loved one by granting them the same 120-day extension of benefits that most families of state employees receive.