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Tampa set to revisit benefits package

Two weeks after the death of Police Officer Lois Marrero sparked debate over whether her longtime domestic partner should receive city benefits, the Tampa City Council will raise the question Thursday of modifying the city's pension package to encompass same-sex unions.

"It's tragic that she died, and it's very sad her partner is not able to receive her death benefits," said council member Linda Saul-Sena, who promised to ask the city attorney's office for guidance on how the pension might be adjusted.

"I think the most straight-ahead way to do this would be to allow people to identify the recipient of their death benefits as whoever they want," Saul-Sena said. "I'd be hard-pressed to understand why anyone would have a problem with that."

Saul-Sena said she would support including Officer Marrero's life partner in a pension plan retroactively, though it was uncertain whether that would be possible.

Marrero, 40, was shot to death July 6 while chasing a bank robbery suspect. Under current law, her female companion of 10 years, Mickie Mashburn, 48, is not eligible to receive Marrero's benefits.

The city's pension plan designates an employee's "widow or widower" as eligible to receive death benefits, and the two women were not married. State law forbids gay couples from marrying.

Tampa City attorney Jim Palermo said modifications to the city pension plan must be approved by the state legislature. If directed by council members, the city could present a bill for a modified plan to the local legislative delegation.

Council member Charlie Miranda echoed Saul-Sena's remarks. "I don't think the word "spouse' should be used," he said. "I think the word beneficiary should be used. I'd like to see it change, but I think you need some actuary studies to show the effect on the system."

Gwen Miller said she did not know how she would vote on such a measure. "I really can't say because I really haven't thought of something like that before," Miller said. "I would have to look into it."

Council member Shawn Harrison said he wanted to study the issue before commenting. "I'll wait to see what the proposal is," he said.

Other council members could not be reached for comment.

Detective Kevin Durkin, president-elect of the West Central Police Benevolent Association, said he was in favor of changing the pension package.

"I absolutely support an officer's right to name a beneficiary," Durkin said. "We're willing to negotiate it."

Durkin said he expected the issue would be raised Wednesday at a meeting of the pension board, which includes representatives from the city, police and fire departments.