Senator Laird Introduces Bill to Ensure Families of Fallen Officers Receive Survival Benefits Regardless of Family Structure

SB 850 was introduced in honor of Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller

Contact: Richard Stapler

SACRAMENTO – Today, Senator John Laird (D – Santa Cruz) introduced Senate Bill 850 to ensure families of fallen officers receive their full survival benefits regardless of family structure.

“As family structure evolves, children should not be penalized because of their family makeup,” said Laird. “Santa Cruz County Deputy Sergeant Damon Gutzwiller sacrificed his life protecting his community and his children deserve the benefits.”

Senator Laird introduced SB 850 in honor of Deputy Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller, a 14-year veteran of the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. On June 6, 2020, while responding to a call for service, Sgt. Gutzwiller was fatally shot in an ambush. He was survived by his partner of over ten years who was pregnant with their child and their young son.

Unfortunately, their modern family is not recognized by state law. According to current law, if a public safety officer is killed in the line of duty, the surviving spouse qualifies for an additional benefit for the officer’s children. However, the statute is silent if there is no surviving spouse, meaning the children and or stepchildren lose out.

In 2003, the definition of “child” was expanded to include stepchildren. Nearly twenty years later, it is time to update state law to reflect today’s modern family structure.

“When a law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty their children should be able to receive the full benefits they are entitled to regardless of the parents’ marital status,” said Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart. “This bill will correct the inequities of the current system.  I want to thank Senator Laird for his work and concern by introducing this bill to the Senate this week.  I hope our legislators recognize the importance of this bill and eventually move it forward to the Governor’s desk so he can sign the bill into law.”

“SB 850 reflects a commitment to the children and families of officers who are left without a loved one,” notes Laird. “I am proud to author this legislation in honor of Sergeant Gutzwiller, a loving partner and father who devoted his life to protecting our community.”


Senator John Laird represents the 17th State Senate District, which includes all of Santa Cruz and San Luis Obispo counties, the majority of Monterey County, as well as parts of Santa Clara County. He previously served as the Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency, member of the State Integrated Waste Management Board, a member of the State Assembly, Executive Director of the Santa Cruz Aids Project, and two terms as Santa Cruz Mayor. His lifetime of public service and social justice advocacy saw him become one of the first openly gay mayors to serve in the United States. Senator Laird has been a long-time resident of Santa Cruz with his spouse John Flores.