Proposed bill would increase pension payout for Dallas first responders who die in the line of duty

The Dallas Police and Fire Pension System may be the only one in the state that doesn't provide full pension benefits to survivors of those who die in the line of duty.

That may change this legislative session through a bill filed by Dallas Democrat Julie Johnson.

If it becomes law, it would increase the pension benefits to survivors of Dallas police officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty.

For Dallas PD officers and firefighters who die in the line of duty, the current pension design considers that person as having retired early, meaning their family members get reduced benefits.

"So what happens is I get the reduced amount, as if he retired at 49, and then I had minor children at the time of death. When my youngest turned 19 last year, half of that money went away," Kristi Walters explained.

Walters’ Dallas firefighter husband, Dave, died in the line of duty.

"Had he made it to retirement age, he would have gotten whatever his retirement would have been as a driver engineer with the Dallas Fire Department at age 58. He died at 49, unexpectedly, so we get a giant hunk taken away from what his pension would have been," she added.

And that's not all.

"It’s set up where half of the benefits goes to the widow and half goes to the surviving children, but then once that surviving children become of age, well then that half just dropped off instead of going back to the widow as it should because that’s an earned benefit earned by the member," Dallas Firefighters' Association President Jim McDade said.


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House Bill 4034 would change benefits for survivors of Dallas police and fire in line of duty deaths.

"Currently, it’s 50% for surviving spouse with no children under the age of 19, or children under the age of 19 who don't have a surviving parent, and both of those would go up to 100%," said Kelly Gottschalk executive director of the Dallas Police and Fire Pension System.     

The pension board has proposed the bill not just apply going forward, but that it includes existing survivors, like Walters.

Gottschalk could not be sure of the cost to the system, but acknowledged the move will increase the system’s liability.

"We do recognize that our funding levels is not where we want them to be, so the board really considered it really hard when they're looking at increasing any cost to the system, but they thought this was just so important that the families of these people who give their life for the city of Dallas that they get the retirement benefit that their person would have been able to receive had they worked until retirement," she explained.

The bill now goes to the Texas Senate.

If it passes there with different language, it then moves to conference committee.

When both houses agree on the language, then it would be up for a final vote.