PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – General Treasurer Seth Magaziner on Monday urged state lawmakers to reject a bill slated for a final vote Tuesday that would award tax-free pensions automatically to firefighters who suffer from heart conditions.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Craven and Sen. Frank Lombardi, would mandate that any firefighter who suffers from stroke or heart disease will be “presumed to have suffered an in-the-line-of-duty disability” and therefore be eligible for a disability pension, unless there was evidence of the condition in an entrance exam. Municipalities would have the right to dispute the claim.
The House and Senate are both scheduled to approve the bill Tuesday, when lawmakers return to the State House for a one-day special session to wrap up unfinished business left over after the June 30 legislative meltdown over the budget. Gov. Gina Raimondo has signaled reservations about the bill, and it’s unclear whether she would sign or veto it.
In a memo earlier this year, Magaziner’s office estimated the legislation’s annual cost to local taxpayers would be between $2.3 million and $2.8 million a year. Neither bill sponsor has issued a news release laying out his rationale for proposing it.
“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,” Magaziner said in a statement Monday. “This bill prevents the state Retirement Board from listening to independent doctors and – unlike many other states with similar provisions – does not consider other factors that can cause heart disease, like tobacco use.”
He added: “Removing these safeguards from the process for awarding a lifetime tax-free benefit is irresponsible and unnecessary. I urge legislators to keep the disability process as fair and accurate as possible.”
R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell also criticized the bill on Monday.
“Rhode Island property owners should not only be worried by the property damage that Jose could cause, but also the damage Nick and Dominick will do tomorrow,” Bell quipped, referring to House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio. “The forecast for taxpayers is a heavy downpour of higher property taxes.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook