The state government has sent $25,000 to the life partner of Tampa police Officer Lois Marrero, who was shot dead by a bank robber two weeks ago.
The money for Tampa police Detective Mickie Mashburn, who had been Marrero's companion for 10 years, comes from the state's crime victims compensation fund. The $25,000 payment, the maximum permitted, was approved by Attorney General Bob Butterworth, guardian of the fund.
While Tampa officials debate the issue of whether pension benefits should be extended to people living in same-sex unions, the crime victims fund draws a less defined line.
It provides payments for the deceased victim's spouse, children or "another person dependent on their income," said Rodney Doss, director of the Division of Victims' Services for Butterworth's office.
Doss said the payment to Mashburn was not to make a statement, but merely follows the guidelines under which money is dispersed to homicide victims' families.
"This is not a death benefit, this is not an insurance program," Doss said. "The specific benefit that was issued in this particular case was for loss of support."
Marrero's death "constitutes a loss of support which will nowhere come close to equating what the officer's contribution to this life partnership may have been in the end," he said.
Mashburn's lawyer, Daniel Castillo, called the state's action "the right thing to do."
"Mickie did not ask for anything from anybody," he said. "She was speechless."
The payment was revealed hours after the Tampa City Council unanimously voted to review the city's benefits policies amid controversy over the Marrero-Mashburn situation. Under the present policy, gay city employees are not entitled to their partner's pension benefits.
In a unanimous vote Thursday, the council approved the formation of a committee to research the city's pension policies. In addition, council member Linda Saul-Sena asked that the committee review life insurance, health insurance and leave to care for ill household members as well.
Marrero's death "underscored the unevenness of our city's policy," Saul-Sena said.
Castillo attended the council meeting. He said Mashburn is grateful that the council is exploring the issue.
"It's a fairness issue," he said.
Council member Rose Ferlita called the council's move "long overdue."
"When that police officer went out on the street, nobody questioned whether she was black, white, homosexual, heterosexual," she said.
Council member Bob Buckhorn voted to support the review but warned his colleagues of the possible financial implications.
Al Suarez, union president for Tampa firefighters, and Kevin Durkin, president for the police union, said after the meeting that they support a change in the beneficiaries policy.
"All police officers make the same contribution to the pension fund, regardless of marital status," Durkin said. "They are serving this county without making judgments on anyone else. We feel they should (be able to name) their beneficiary."
Countering the praise was the voice of at least one critic.
Oliver Lewis, an elder with the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Thonotosassa, told the council that a change would unravel the community's values.
"We see this as a back-door attempt to undermine our moral fabric in the city," Lewis said. "The next block to fall will be in favor of same-sex marriages."