Rhode Island legislators saw the wisdom in passing the presumptive heart disease disability bill last night, not because they inherently understand exactly why firefighters who develop heart disease while on the job ( mandatory retirement at 60 in Providence) deserve it; rather the efforts of our union representatives lobbied them with facts backed by statistics that making it possible for them, in good conscience to approve the bill.
There will be those who oppose anything to do with a firefighter being granted a tax free disability pension for illness and injury as a result of doing our job, thankfully our system of representative democracy makes it possible for reason and fairness to prevail.
A firefighter is part of the vital infrastructure that taxpayers depend on during emergencies. We are not private sector employees beholden to market whims. Our part in public safety is essential.
Many thanks to the Rhode Island General Assembly for understanding the very real risk associated with providing the public the best protection money can buy.
Sept. 19–PROVIDENCE, RI– The Rhode Island House has approved a bill creating a presumption that any firefighter with a heart condition is entitled to the same tax-free, two-thirds-pay disability pension as a firefighter injured on duty.
The vote was 58-to-11.
The lead sponsor, Rep. Robert Craven, D-North Kingstown, said the legislation would place Rhode Island in line with 37 other states. “Our firefighters deserve proper care and respect,” he argued.
“If it wasn’t for them, where would we be?” asked House Majority Whip John Edwards, D-Tiverton.
But House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan, a potential GOP candidate for governor, called the legislation “a gift that is unjustifiable,” and does not take into account any other possible health factors in a firefighter’s life that could contribute to a heart condition, such as smoking and drinking alcohol.
Citing cost estimates provided by the state treasurer’s office, she said the bill would penalize property owners with higher property taxes.
State Treasurer Seth Magaziner has already put state lawmakers on notice that he will ask Governor Raimondo to veto the bill, if they pass it.
Magaziner gave these reasons in an email to The Journal: “This legislation removes the checks and balances that are in place to ensure that accidental disability pensions only go to members who are actually disabled in the line of duty. This bill prevents the state Retirement Board from listening to independent doctors and — unlike many other states with similar provisions — does not allow the board to consider other factors that can cause heart disease, like tobacco use.
“Removing these safeguards from the process for awarding a lifetime tax-free benefit is irresponsible and unnecessary,” Magaziner said. (Raimondo has not said whether she will heed his call for a veto.)
The bill still needs the approval of the Senate before reaching the governor’s desk. The Senate was poised to vote during Tuesday’s one-day special session, on a matching bill sponsored by Sen. Frank Lombardi.
(c)2017 The Providence Journal (Providence, R.I.)