Two years ago Thursday Orange County Deputy Sheriff Jonathan “Scott” Pine was gunned down while in pursuit of a suspect, and on Wednesday the Florida Senate did all it could to make sure his surviving family – and others – won’t have to wait another year for financial security.
The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 7012, which would increase survivors’ benefits for spouses and children of first responders who are killed in the line of duty.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives. The Senate sent it over with as strong a message as it could muster that senators want to see this bill approved as soon as possible and enacted this year. They seek to avoid risking the fate that a similar measure met last year after the Senate passed it but the House failed to take it up before the 2015 session abruptly ended in chaos.
This time, at the request of the sponsor, Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, all 40 senators signed on at the last-minute as co-sponsors.
“For me personally it was the low point of last year when the session ended early,” Ring said. “I hope we can make a very strong showing on this bill as it goes over to our friends on the other side.”
And then all voted yea.
“Thank you, Sen. Ring,” Senate President Andy Gardiner said. Then he looked into the gallery at Pine’s widow, Bridget Pine, nodded and waved to her, and added, “Thank you.”
Pine had opted for the state’s investment benefit plan and had just three years of service at the time of his slaying, so his contributions left little for his wife and three children, Haley, now 7; Ryker, 6; and Maddox, 3.
SB 7012 allows the surviving spouses and children of first responders killed in the line of duty to opt into the Florida Retirement System pension plan, and the bill increases the survivors’ benefits in that plan from 50 percent of the member’s monthly salary at the time of death to 100 percent.
While Ring and the Senate Committee on Governmental Oversight and Accountability sponsored the bill, it was strongly pushed by Orange County’s delegation, including Republican Gardiner of Orlando.
“This is still an open wound in our community back home,” said Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando. “It was a tragedy that was across the front page not only because of Deputy Pine’s bravery but the injustice of what happened with the pension system. The Pine family was left with next to nothing, when if he had the other, defined benefit it would have been a robust benefit plan for his wife and three children.”
Sen. Geraldine Thompson, D-Orlando, added, “This will go a long way toward assuring that the Pine family, the children, will have a future that reflects the service he gave to the state of Florida.”