The Honorable Michael Brady, Senate Chair
The Honorable Jerald Parisella, House Chair
Joint Committee on Public Service
State House, Boston

Dear Chair Brady, Chair Parisella, 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 are on today’s agenda for a public hearing. We appreciate the Committee’s careful consideration of local government’s position on these important matters regarding presumption legislation, disability pensions for violent crimes, and legislation regarding increases to disability benefits and line-of-duty survivor benefits.

The MMA strongly opposes a number of bills on today’s agenda that would establish legal presumptions for certain injuries or illnesses that are deemed to occur or are contracted as a result of on-the-job exposures, 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 would create untenable burdens on communities and local taxpayers with respect to financial, healthcare 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 incidences 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 come before this Committee already this session. 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.

These bills 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 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:

Parkinson’s Disease
• H. 2378, An Act relative to Parkinson’s disease disability and death in firefighters
• S. 1542, An Act relative to Parkinson’s disease disability and death in firefighters
• S. 1546, An Act relative to Parkinson’s disease disability and death in firefighters

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
• H. 3785, An Act relative to the disability of death caused by PTSD
• S. 1509, An Act relative to disability or death caused by infectious diseases, presumption

Cancer for Police Officers
• H. 2174, An Act relative to municipal police officer disability benefits
• H. 2240, An Act providing disability benefits for police officers with certain conditions of cancer
• H. 2284, An Act relative to the cancer presumption for police officers

Lung or Respiratory Tract Diseases
• H. 2175, An Act relative to defining certain disabilities

Contagious or Infectious Diseases
• H. 2261, An Act relative to disability or death caused by contagious diseases, presumption
• H. 2285, An Act relative to disability or death caused by contagious diseases, presumption
• H. 2381, An Act relative to disability or death caused by contagious diseases, presumption
• S. 1485, An Act relative to disability or death caused by infectious diseases, presumption
• S. 1509, An Act relative to disability or death caused by infectious diseases, presumption
• S. 1595, An Act relative to the safety of fire, police and EMTs from contagious diseases

HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis
• H. 2277, An Act to amend the presumptive disability law

Mental Impairment
• H. 2297, An Act relative to municipal police department employees

The MMA opposes S. 1531, An Act relative to disability pensions for violent crimes, which would make employees who are subjects of violence while performing their jobs eligible for accidental disability pensions. There already is a proven avenue through the home rule petition process for an employee to receive additional disability retirement benefits in the unusual circumstance of injury through a violent act. Local officials must retain the ability to pay accidental disability benefits to victims of violent crimes as individual cases arise. To date, there have been approximately 50 people retired for permanent disabilities incurred as a result of a violent act since 1948 under the home rule petition process. The home rule petition allows cities and towns and the Legislature to acknowledge the sacrifice of public employees at the local level on a case-by-case basis, and ensures that accidental disability benefits are extended only when appropriate. We ask the Committee to not report this bill out.

The MMA opposes several bills on the agenda relative to increasing disability benefits and line-of-duty survivor benefits. These bills 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 cost analyses on these bills:

• H. 2198, An Act relative to the oversight of disability pension benefits
• H. 2224, An Act relative to injury disability application for firefighters
• H. 2276, An Act relative to line-of-duty death and survivor benefits
• S. 1484, An Act relative to survivor retirement benefits
• S. 1494, An Act relative to injury disability application for firefighters
• S. 1596, An Act relative to line of duty death 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 Senior Legislative Analyst Lisa Adams at 617-426-7272 at any time.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO