California’s College Tuition Waiver Upheld Following Advocacy Effort

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Thanks to the aggressive advocacy work of California firefighters, the children of firefighters who die of a job-related illness can continue to claim the higher education benefits to which they are legally entitled.

AB 2164 (Patrick O’Donnell), which was signed into law at the end of the last legislative session, clarifies the 1970s law providing public university and community college tuition waivers for the children of fallen firefighters, ensuring that the law will extend to cases where the firefighter died of job-related illness.

The need for such a fix came about after the son of John Mazzocco, a 17-year L.A. County firefighter and proud member of Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014 who died at the age 48 after an excruciating battle with job-related cancer,  had his application for a tuition waiver at CSU Chico turned down by the university’s legal staff. 

Their narrow legal view: Only firefighters who die on the scene of an incident qualify as “line of duty deaths.”

“Up until that moment, there had never been a question that my husband gave his life in the line of duty,” said his widow, Lori.

When word got back to Brother Mazzocco’s brothers and sisters, the union got to work.  

Local 1014 contacted California Professional Firefighters which, after extensive research, confirmed that the CSU interpretation was not shared by either the UC or community college system. CPF even secured a legal opinion supporting the waiver. 

Working with firefighter-friendly Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, CPF sponsored AB 2164. The measure clarifies for all concerned what has long been recognized: Line-of-duty-deaths include those caused by job-related illness.

Lori Mazzocco personally testified on its behalf, as did Local 1014 President Dave Gillotte and Davis Firefighters Local 3494 member Emily Lo. CPF worked closely with its legislative allies and the governor’s office to smooth over trouble spots.

In the end, AB 2164 was approved unanimously and signed by Governor Jerry Brown. “Children of fallen firefighters shouldn’t be punished based on how their parent died,” said CPF President Lou Paulson. “This bill ensures California law is interpreted the way it was always meant to be.”

For more information on California’s tuition waiver, access the California Fire Foundation’s Survivor Benefits Guide at www.cafirefoundation.org.