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Berryhill bill extends benefits for teen children of slain officers
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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a piece of legislation last week authored by state Assemblyman Bill Berryhill, R-Ceres, AB 1696, which extends death benefits from Worker's Compensation for the children of police officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty. The bill was crafted in memory of Ceres Police Sgt. Howard Stevenson who was killed in the line of duty on Jan. 9, 2005. He left a widow and three children.

Berryhill said a "quirk in the law" did not allow Stevenson's widow, K

her youngest daughter because benefits are not paid out for those in high school who are 18 years of age. A year ago this summer, Stevenson's daughter turned 18 just before entering her senior year of high school and was denied further death benefits, a circumstance due to the simple fact that she started kindergarten at age six.

"Death benefits run out at 18 and it should be 18 or finished high school," said Berryhill. "This bill doesn't help Kathy now but it will be of help to other families in the future."

AB 1696 simply changes the law to require a child receive benefits until the age of 19 or upon graduation from high school, whichever comes first, consistent with Social Security benefits.

Berryhill said he encountered more resistance from fellow Republicans than Democrats, mostly because "they felt it was pushing toward a change in benefits toward everybody and I sad that's not my intention. It's thinking about law enforcement who show up for duty or firefighters entering a burning building and having the peace of mind knowing that their family is protected."

Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk went to Sacramento twice to testify before lawmakers to win passage.

"I am very pleased the governor signed this important measure," said Berryhill. "A child should not be penalized for starting kindergarten a little later. When a child loses a parent in such a tragic way, school is hard enough to focus on; by cutting off their benefits prematurely, it is only going to make their educational success even harder - that's just not right."

He said his legislation will have more revelence as the state Legislature just passed a bill that would move the kindergarten cutoff age from Dec. 2 to Sept. 1, as it is in many other states. The move, said the bill's author, is that it would save the state about $700 million a year.

because public schools would serve significantly fewer kindergarteners.

"As we raised the age who is eligible for kindergarten you'll see more cases like this."

This is Berryhill's second bill honoring Stevenson; last year he passed ACR 20, naming the Hwy 99 / Whitmore Avenue interchange the "Sergeant Howard K. Stevenson Memorial Interchange." Efforts are currently underway to raise the money necessary to erect the sign.

Berryhill represents the 26th Assembly District which includes Ceres, Turlock, Denair, Modesto, Stockton, Manteca, Ripon, Lockeford, Linden and Escalon.