Legislation sponsored by Simpson, new environment committee ranker
By Gwendolyn Craig
The widow of an Adirondacks-based environmental conservation officer is slated to get an estimated $2.07 million over her lifetime after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation deeming her eligible for an accidental death benefit.
Stephen Raymond, who served with the state Department of Environmental Conservation for two decades, died April 17, 2017. His widow, Shari Raymond, found out after his death that his lung, bone and brain cancers diagnosed less than a year earlier were linked to about 225 hours Stephen Raymond served at Ground Zero in New York City after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Through the New York State and Local Retirement System, the state pays accidental death benefits for members who die from natural and proximate results of an on-the-job accident. Shari Raymond had missed the two-year deadline for families to file. A bill that extended the deadline to five years was passed and went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020, but there was no provision for deaths of members before that date. Starting in 2021, Shari Raymond lobbied state legislators and a bill sponsored by state Assemblyman Matthew Simpson, R-Horicon and state Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, passed unanimously in 2022.
Since June, Shari Raymond, who lives in Thurman in Warren County, has been waiting for Hochul’s signature. It came on Dec. 23, 2022.
“It was really a nice sort of Christmas present from the governor,” Shari Raymond said. “I was crying good tears when it went through.”
According to the bill, Shari Raymond will be paid $2.07 million “based on the assumption that payment will be made on March 1, 2023.” Shari Raymond is considering setting up a college scholarship for environmental conservation officers and their families with some of the money.
Simpson sent her a text message as soon as he knew Hochul had signed. Shari Raymond had also heard from one of Stec’s legislative advisors and an Albany-based environmental conservation officer. Simpson said he was glad there was a happy ending.
“I am very thankful that the governor signed the Raymond bill,” he said in a phone interview. “It took a lot of work working with colleagues in the Legislature, but we all came together and it’s passed.”
In a message to the Explorer, Stec praised Stephen Raymond’s “heroism and service.”
“While nothing can ever replace Stephen, I’m pleased that the state is doing the right thing and providing these deserved benefits to his family,” Stec wrote.
Shari Raymond’s situation had spurred talk about whether other officers’ families might have had the same timing difficulty. Simpson said he had not heard of any others, and legislation encompassing anybody having a similar circumstance would be difficult. One of the main concerns, Simpson said, is trying to identify how much money to set aside. He’d still like to see an all-encompassing bill so if there are others that come forward, they don’t have to go through a two-year process like Shari Raymond did.
“For me, I think it’s a no-brainer,” Simpson said. “I just don’t know how they have an open-ended piece of legislation.”
Simpson spoke with the Explorer on Tuesday shortly after learning Republican Assembly Leader Will Barclay had appointed him as ranking minority member of the environmental conservation committee. Simpson said he was honored. In a news release, he added that it has always been his goal to protect “our beautiful Adirondack Park, Lake George, and the other numerous and remarkable waterways the North Country hosts in order to continue holding the beauty of our state right here in our backyards.”
“I know it’s going to be challenging,” he told the Explorer, “but it’s important.”
Stec was also reappointed as the ranking minority member of the state Senate’s environmental conservation committee.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that the legislation provided an estimated lifetime value of $2.07 million instead of a lump sum payment.