The governor has signed legislation that amends existing state laws on tobacco use and injured-on-duty pay for public safety employees.

One law amends the statute prohibiting tobacco use by police officers and firefighters, which was originally enacted as part of a deal to provide disability benefits to public safety employees.

Under Chapter 41, Section 101A, anyone eligible for appointment or appointed as a police officer or firefighter after Jan. 1, 1988, who smokes tobacco products is subject to termination. The Personnel Administrator Rules further provide that appointing authorities are responsible for enforcing the prohibition and shall give employees found smoking any tobacco product written notice and a hearing prior to termination. The rules also clarify that the prohibition covers the employee both on and off duty.

Chapter 210 of the Acts of 2018 amends Section 101A to offer public safety employees an opportunity to enter a smoking cessation program prior to dismissal, with subsequent violations being cause for dismissal.

The MMA strongly opposed this legislation because it upends 30 years of standing law and personnel policy brokered as part of the enactment of a presumption that heart and lung disease and certain cancers are work-related under Chapter 32, Section 94B. The new law allows public safety employees to keep the Chapter 32 presumption even if they are caught smoking.

A second law, Chapter 148 of the Acts of 2018, amends Chapter 32, Section 94B, and Chapter 41, Section 111F, by extending the presumption that cancer arose in the line of duty to firefighters who take leave for cancer diagnoses. The law mandates leave without loss of pay for the period of incapacity until the employee retires or is cleared of the condition by a physician.

Section 94B requires employees to pass a physical examination upon entry into service that does not reveal evidence of the cancer diagnosis. To be eligible for benefits, employees must serve in their positions for at least five years from the time that the medical condition is first discovered, or should have been discovered.

The MMA strongly opposed this legislation because there are already mechanisms in place to compensate firefighters for time off following a cancer diagnosis, such as accrued paid leave, and the new provisions add a financial burden for cities and towns. Under the new law, an employee collecting benefits under Section 111F remains eligible for indemnification of medical expenses related to an illness that arises in the line of duty under Chapter 41, Section 100.

Municipal employers may still challenge a presumption by showing that accidents or hazards not connected to service, or a combination of the two, caused the incapacity. Because there are both mandated and local-option injured-on-duty laws, municipal employers may conduct an assessment of insurance coverage and should know which statutes their communities have adopted. This will allow cities and towns to explore the worthiness of adding companion insurance policies and incorporate these expenses in the budget planning process.

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