Who is a member?
Our members are the local governments of Massachusetts and their elected and appointed leadership.
The Honorable Michael D. Brady, Senate Chair
The Honorable Kenneth I. Gordon, House Chair
Joint Committee on Public Service
State House, Boston
Dear Chair Brady, Chair Gordon, and Members of the Committee,
On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to submit the following comments on bills that were heard at the Committee’s public hearing on July 21, 2021. We appreciate the Committee’s careful consideration of local government’s position on these important matters regarding health presumption legislation and other issues related to COVID-19.
The MMA strongly opposes a number of bills on the agenda related to special COVID-19 payments and other categories of legislation that would establish legal presumptions for certain injuries or illnesses contracted by certain public employees, extending accidental disability benefits or injured-on-duty pay via a blanket presumption rather than evidence of actual causality. The passage of any one of these bills would be very costly for municipalities and local taxpayers, would immediately increase the projected unfunded pension liability in communities across the state, and would translate into reductions in available funding for municipal services in other areas, including personnel, and would have a disproportionately large financial impact on small towns.
In 2018, a law passed providing firefighters with injured-on-duty benefits under G.L. Chapter 41, Section 111F, for categories of cancer diagnoses. These cancer cases, which are extremely costly to municipalities, are beginning to accrue under the new law, and cities and towns are still in the process of learning how to manage them. Additional presumption legislation at this juncture, especially with no reliable date regarding actual causality, would create untenable burdens on communities and local taxpayers with respect to financial, health care and personnel administration.
In general, passing presumption bills without first engaging in adequate cost and risk analyses is a “leaping-before-looking” practice that fails to adequately understand the policy and financial ramifications. Often the data presented to support a rationale for presumption legislation is national data and is not congruous with Massachusetts cities and towns, and does not include projections of the long-term financial cost to taxpayers. Policy makers and the public must have the correct data with respect to risk factors and exposures specific to Massachusetts before acting on presumption bills. This type of state-based analysis is necessary to understand the incidence and prevalence of diseases and illnesses among public safety personnel in Massachusetts and whether the levels are in fact higher compared to the Massachusetts general population.
We urge the Legislature to first study the illnesses and injuries that are the subject of current presumption legislation BEFORE mandating injured-on-duty pay or accidental disability benefits. The MMA is supporting study bills and the creation of commissions to study certain illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), some of which have already come before this Committee. Having a better understanding of the prevalence of the diseases at issue, the main causes of these diseases in Massachusetts, best practices for treatment, and the costs associated with treatment, among other factors, remains essential before costs are blindly thrust on municipalities and taxpayers. The diseases and illnesses that would be provided with blanket presumptions under the bills filed this session include Parkinson’s disease for firefighters; PTSD for police, fire and EMTs; cancer for police officers; lung or respiratory tract diseases for any member of a retirement system; contagious diseases for police, fire and EMTs; HIV, AIDS and hepatitis for police and fire; and mental impairment for police.
In terms of the presumption bills, these measures would automatically trigger G.L. Chapter 41, Section 111F, injured-on-duty benefits for public safety employees, regardless of whether the onset of the disease was actually work-related. This would force cities and towns to pay all of the related medical costs directly to health providers – totally circumventing the health insurance plans that communities are already providing. In other words, granting an automatic presumption would force cities and towns to pay double the cost – once for a health insurance plan that cannot be used when employees go into the 111F system, and a second time by paying all bills that health providers submit (with no restrictions on how much the hospital or provider can charge). Since all employees are already covered for these medical conditions in their municipal health insurance plans, this is a wildly inefficient and unaffordable mandate to force onto taxpayers.
Further, several of the bills you heard on July 21 would enact unprecedented pension benefits for tens of thousands of state and local employees who worked outside their homes during the COVID-19 state of emergency. H. 2808 and S. 1669 would allow for early retirement at full benefits three years in advance of current eligibility. While there has been no cost analysis at all to determine the number of individuals who would qualify and the true cost to taxpayers, it is clear that the measures would add billions of dollars to state and local unfunded pension liabilities, saddling current and future-generation taxpayers with an unaffordable financial burden. H. 2696 would grant lifetime pensions incorporating overtime paid to these employees during the pandemic, compounding the unaffordability and adding even more to the taxpayers’ liability.
All of these measures would provide an unprecedented extension of benefits that would be paid by local taxpayers with little recourse and little understanding of the magnitude of the burden placed on communities. We urge the Committee to NOT report the following bills out of Committee without first conducting thorough cost analysis and Massachusetts-based risk and health analyses, and providing the public and local taxpayers with a comprehensive actuarial projection of the impact on communities and public retirement systems, and a method of funding these costs:
COVID-19 Pension Bonus
• H. 2808, An Act to provide a COVID-19 retirement credit to essential public sector workers
• S. 1669, An Act to provide a COVID-19 retirement credit to essential public sector workers
• H. 2696, An Act relative to Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 32: retirement and pensions
• H. 2770, An Act relative to a COVID-19 presumption for law enforcement personnel
• S. 1667, An Act relative to a COVID-19 presumption for public employees
• H. 2709, An Act relative to COVID-19 complications for public safety employees
COVID-19 Special Payments
• S. 1671, An Act relative to COVID-19 quarantine payments
• H. 2593, An Act relative to public employees performing core functions
• H. 2648, An Act relative to Parkinson’s disease disability and death in firefighters
• S. 1725, An Act relative to Parkinson’s disease disability and death in firefighters
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
• H. 2726, An Act relative to disability or death caused by PTSD
• S. 1691, An Act relative to disability or death caused by PTSD
Expanded Cancer Presumption
• H. 2628, An Act providing disability benefits for police officers with certain conditions of cancer
• H. 2679, An Act relative to the cancer presumption for police officers
• H. 2772, An Act providing for disability and death benefits for explosive device canine handlers and bomb technicians
Lung or Respiratory Tract Diseases
• H. 2567, An Act relative to defining certain disabilities
• H. 2627, An Act relative to firefighters and sarcoidosis
Contagious or Infectious Diseases
• H. 2650, An Act relative to disability or death caused by contagious diseases, presumption
• S. 1663, An Act relative to disability or death caused by infectious diseases, presumption
HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis
• H. 2670, An Act to amend the presumptive disability law
• H. 2690, An Act relative to municipal police department employees
• S. 1717, An Act relative to maintenance of physical examinations records for public safety personnel
• H. 2651, An Act relative to maintenance of physical examinations records for public safety personnel
The MMA opposes legislation on the agenda relative to increasing disability benefits and line-of-duty survivor benefits. This bill would significantly increase costs for municipalities when they are already facing pension and other post-employment benefits (OPEB) liabilities that are double that of the state at over $30 billion. We urge the Committee to perform a cost analysis on:
• S. 1664, An Act relative to survivor retirement benefits
We appreciate the opportunity to represent the interests of cities, towns and local taxpayers regarding the legislation before you today. Municipal leaders are deeply committed to the health, safety and financial well-being of their employees, yet it is also essential that substantial extensions and increases in benefits be defensible in terms of actual causality, supported by real Massachusetts-based data, and affordable for the citizens of the Commonwealth.
If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me or MMA’s legislative staff at 617-426-7272 at any time.
Geoffrey C. Beckwith
MMA Executive Director & CEO