- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2007

VIRGINIA BEACH — Gov. Timothy M. Kaine said yesterday he wants the state to increase retirement benefits for law-enforcement officers and make sure children and spouses of service members killed in action receive full higher-education benefits.

Those are among public-safety initiatives Mr. Kaine has submitted for consideration by the 2007 General Assembly, which convenes next week.

“We ask you to be there for us in those most desperate moments in people’s lives, and that takes a very special person,” Mr. Kaine told law-enforcement officials and National Guard members during a press conference at Camp Pendleton State Military Reservation. “The future of our commonwealth is very much tied up with your future.”

Mr. Kaine said he is proposing an adjustment that would raise the annual retirement compensation for state police officers by an average of $3,000, which he said will help recruit and retain officers. Virginia now ranks 48th out of 49 states in state police retirement benefits, Mr. Kaine said. Hawaii does not have a state police force.

The Democrat also has proposed funding to encourage local governments to increase retirement benefits for sheriff’s deputies.

The governor noted that in 2006 Virginia lost 11 law-enforcement officers on the job, more than in any year in the past decade.

Mr. Kaine said he has identified existing state funds to address law-enforcement retirement issues — $11.5 million for sheriff’s deputies and $2.3 million for state police.

The governor’s budget proposal also includes $8.2 million to increase salaries for officers and supervisors in the Department of Corrections and the Department of Juvenile Justice. Of that, $7.4 million is for the corrections department and would mean a flat $1,200 increase per officer, plus an additional $600 per supervisor, said Kevin Hall, Mr. Kaine’s spokesman.

Mr. Kaine said he also will ask the General Assembly to appropriate $1 million to fund benefits through the Virginia Military Survivors and Dependents Education Program, formerly known as the Virginia War Orphans Education Program.

The program is designed to provide free tuition and room and board for spouses and children of military service members who are killed, missing in action, taken prisoner or become at least 90 percent disabled as a result of combat.

This would be the first time money would be set aside for those benefits, Mr. Kaine said. Some Virginia schools have waived only tuition, saying the state should appropriate funds to cover the students’ living costs.

“This is something we want to do to make sure we’re honoring those who have made significant sacrifices in serving the country,” Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Kaine also proposed changes to smooth the process when active National Guard members challenge private-sector employment benefits.

Virginia Guard members called for federal service now must go to federal court to seek help if they are denied pay, vacation or other job benefits. Mr. Kaine wants to allow them to use the state court system.

“We have heard that there have been concerns and that people are very nervous about it,” Mr. Kaine told reporters. “We want to make clear that whether you’re called up by the president or the governor, the same rules and same benefits apply.”

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