Lawmakers, unions still at odds over convicts’ pensions

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The Senate Finance Committee ultimately took no action Thursday on a bill aiming to strip pensions from those serving life sentences, but the hearing highlighted some vastly differing perspectives on the legislation.

At the center of the debate is former Providence police officer Nicholas Gianquitti, who was sentenced to life in prison for shooting and killing Cranston firefighter James Pagano. Even though he’s behind bars, he still collects a $50,000 annual disability pension.

Now, state lawmakers are trying to stop Gianquitti, and all other future criminals sentenced to life, from collecting those taxpayer-backed pensions. Providence Mayor Angel Taveras, who’s been outspoken in his support of the bill, testified before the committee Thursday night.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, called it black and white.

“It has outraged people, and it’s adding even more injury to unspeakable pain,” she said. “We’re paying for him twice. We’re paying for him to be in prison for the cost of incarceration for a life sentence, and he’s collecting a pension.”

Many union representatives think otherwise, but Paul Valletta with the R.I. State Association of Firefighters said he’s in a difficult spot given the victim in the Gianquitti case.

“If I was testifying with my heart, I would say take everything away from the animal that killed my friend and brother firefighter. But I can’t testify with my heart, I have to be consistent,” he explained. “Once you pay for a pension and once you do the time for a pension, you fulfill your service requirements, that pension should not be taken away.”

The Senate currently has a provision that would allow a spouse or child to petition for a stripped pension if they can prove they’d be destitute without it.

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