Wolf signs first bill extending death benefits to campus police

TribLive | May 13, 2015 | Column by Brad Bumsted

HARRISBURG — Hours after touring the Amtrak disaster scene in North Philadelphia, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday it was fitting that the first he bill signed into law extends death benefits for campus police officers and lengthens the time period for emergency responders' families to apply.

Brad Bumsted | Trib Total MediaGov. Tom Wolf said it's fitting that the first bill he signed into law Wednesday, May 13, 2015, extended death benefits to families of campus police and lengthened the time period for families of first responders to apply, given the Amtrak crash in Philadelphia the night before. With Wolf, at left, is April Waller of West Newton, the widow of a Penn State University-McKeesport campus police officer. Behind them is state Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, who pushed for the law.  Read more: http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/8361609-74/state-waller-benefits#ixzz3a33dVlbB  Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook

“Last night in Philadelphia, I witnessed first-hand the risks that law enforcement and first responders undertake to protect and serve the public,” Wolf said. “We owe it to them and their families to help them recover when the unthinkable unfortunately happens.”

Wolf toured the crash scene where at least six people died and an estimated 200 were injured.

“The site was truly awful,” Wolf said. He offered state police assistance and state support to Mayor Michael Nutter.

Authorities said Amtrak Train 188, a Northeast Regional, jumped the tracks while rounding a sharp curve shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday. The train was heading from Washington to New York with 238 passengers and five crew members.

Wolf said he has overall concerns about rail safety and about oil tank cars near the accident scene.

He requested a moment of silence for victims before signing Act 152, which includes a provision pushed by Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, to extend death benefits to campus police.

The bill amends the Emergency and Law Enforcement Personnel Death Benefits Act to extend the application period for survivors to apply for death benefits from 90 days to four years. The bill adds survivors of trained campus police officers who die on the job to the list of those eligible for benefits.

State officials could not provide the number of campus police who would be covered. Ward's office said it applies to trained forces at the University of Pittsburgh, Penn State University, the University of Pennsylvania, Temple and Drexel universities, but not to the state-related universities.

On hand for the signing was April Waller of West Newton, the widow of Vince Waller, former chief of the campus police at Penn State-McKeesport. He died of a cerebral hemorrhage on the job in 2012 and his wife said she found herself with two kids and a bleak future.

Under the law, Waller will get medical insurance, money in trust for their children, some assistance with living expenses, and free college for Kaiden, 12, and Hannah, 8.

“It's been a long fight,” she said.

When Waller began asking about benefits, she said she had no idea her inquiries eventually would help other families across the state. She worked on the issue for a while before contacting Ward in mid-December.

“She really got things rolling and helped get this done,” Waller said.

“We're so excited for her,” Ward said. “April worked so hard. She never gave up.”

The bill makes it easier for survivors of all emergency responders to apply for benefits, and extends the time period for them to do so, Ward said.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media's state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].


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PAUSE is a grassroots group of individuals who have come together to promote safe, sustainable energy and fight for environmental justice. We engage the greater public to stop the fossil fuel industry’s assault on the people of Albany and our environment.