Attorney General: Hon. Edith Prague Senate Co-Chair, Hon. Kevin Ryan House Co-Chair Labor & Public Employees Committee, Hon. Martin Looney Senate Maj. Leader, Hon. Donald Williams, Jr. President Pro Tempore, Formal Opinion 2008-002, Attorney General State of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

February 12, 2008

 

The Honorable Edith G. Prague  Senate Co-Chair

The Honorable Kevin Ryan

House Co-Chair

Labor and Public Employees Committee

The Honorable Martin M. Looney

Senate Majority Leader

The Honorable Donald E. Williams, Jr.

President Pro Tempore

State Capitol
Hartford, CT  06106-1591

 

Dear Senator Prague and Representative Ryan, and Senators Looney and Williams:

 

Public Act 07-161 requires municipalities to continue to provide survivor benefits to the surviving spouse of a paid police officer or firefighter who dies in the line of duty even after the spouse remarries.  The Act’s effective date is October 1, 2007.  You have asked whether the Act may be applied retroactively to provide benefits to a surviving spouse of a police officer or firefighter who died before the Act’s effective date, if the surviving spouse remarries after October 1, 2007, or whether the extended benefit is available only to a surviving spouse when the date of death of the police officer or firefighter is after the effective date of the Act.

 

We conclude that if the surviving spouse of a police officer or fire fighter who died prior to October 1, 2007, remarries after the effective date of Public Act 07-161, the surviving spouse will be entitled to continuing benefits after the remarriage.  The provision of such benefits would not be retroactive, but instead would be a prospective application of the Act that removed the remarriage penalty from the law.

 

Public Act 07-161 amends § 7-433b(a) of the general statutes as follows:

 

[T]he survivors of any uniformed or regular member of a paid fire department or any regular member of a paid police department whose death has been suffered in the line of duty shall be eligible to receive such survivor benefits as are provided for in the Workers' Compensation Act, and, in addition, they shall receive such survivor benefits as may be provided for in the retirement system in which such department member was a participant at the time of his death; provided such pension benefits (1) shall not terminate upon the remarriage of the spouse of such member, and (2) shall be adjusted so that the total weekly benefits received by such survivors shall not exceed one hundred per cent of the weekly compensation being paid, during their compensable period, to members of such department [in] at the maximum rate for the same position which was held by such deceased at the time of his or her death. Nothing contained [herein] in this subsection shall prevent any town, city or borough from paying money from its general fund to any such survivors, provided total weekly benefits paid shall not exceed said one hundred per cent of the weekly compensation.

 

"The meaning of a statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes."   Conn. Gen. Stat. §1-2z.  In construing a statute, we make "a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature.... [W]e look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter."  State v. Courchesne, 262 Conn. 537, 577 (2003). 

 

Section 7-433b(a) has for years required benefits for surviving spouses of police officers or firefighters who die in the line of duty.  Previous to Public Act 07-161, if a surviving spouse remarried, the spouse's benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act would cease upon remarriage.  Under Public Act 07-161, the benefits continue.  Since the Act removes the penalty occasioned by remarriage, the application of the Act to a surviving spouse who remarries after the effective date of  the Act would be a prospective - - not a retroactive - - application of the new law.  There is no question that such a prospective application of the law is allowed.  Conn. Gen. Stat. §  55-3; Flanagan v. Blumenthal, 100 Conn. App. 255, 259 (2007).

 

Providing benefits to surviving spouses who remarry was clearly contemplated by the legislature in enacting Public Act 07-161.  For example, Senator Prague, when introducing the amendment which became the Act, discussed the impetus for the proposal as being the death of a young firefighter in Waterbury who was killed while on duty, leaving a wife and two children.  Senator Prague said:  “This amendment eliminates that provision [that benefits cease upon remarriage] and would allow somebody, like this young widow, with her two little kids, to go on in life and maybe, somewhere down the road, find somebody who would be a good husband to her and father to those children, and be able to continue her survivor benefits.” Senate Session Transcript for 5/31/2007.  Senator Debicella added that the amendment was for “those who have given their life in the line of duty, that their spouses not be denied another chance for happiness in their lives and that they can continue to get the Workers’ Compensation that their family deserves, but they can move on with their lives.”  Senator Stillman added that the legislature should “do the right thing, which is what this bill is about.” Ibid.

 

Similarly, in discussing the proposed legislation on the floor of the House, Representative Cafero stated that “there is no question in my mind that everybody in this building would want the family of that individual [the Waterbury firefighter mentioned by Senator Prague] to get the maximum benefits they could get because of the tragic death, in this case of their father and husband.”  House Session Transcript for 6/4/2007.  Finally, in testimony before the Labor and Public Employee Committee of the General Assembly, Senator Stillman asked Thomas Carozza, who was representing the interests of the Connecticut Council of Police Unions, if he had an idea of the number of people who might fall under the provisions of the proposal.  Mr. Carozza answered “I would say that currently there are probably no more than 12 surviving spouses of police officers that died in the line of duty at this particular time.  And actually, as far as a fiscal note, there really is no increase in any finances, because they would be receiving a pension or some remuneration at the present time.  What this bill . . . does is take away the marriage penalty . . . if they decide to remarry.”  Senator Stillman then stated:  “Which means the benefit would continue.”  Mr. Carrozza agreed, adding:  “The benefit would continue that they are already getting.” Public Safety and Security Committee Hearing transcript for 3/1/2007.

 

Clearly, from this exchange and from the understanding of the legislators acting on the bill, the intent of Public Act 07-161 was that surviving spouses should continue to receive benefits should they remarry.

 

I trust that this opinion answers your concerns.

 

Very truly yours,

 

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL

ATTORNEY GENERAL

 


Back to the 2008 Opinions Page
Back to the Opinions Page



Content Last Modified on 2/19/2008 3:55:43 PM