Gov. Raimondo vetoes firefighter disability bill

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Gov. Gina Raimondo has vetoed a bill that would automatically give firefighters a lifetime tax-free accidental-disability pension if they develop a heart condition.

Supporters of the bill – sponsored by Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston – argue it should be presumed that firefighters who have a stroke or heart disease suffered the ailment in the line of duty. But critics say the change would cost local taxpayers as much as $2.8 million a year and take away discretion from the State Retirement Board, providing the pensions even if the applicant was a smoker or overweight.

Raimondo sided with the critics, who include Democratic General Treasurer Seth Magaziner, R.I. Republican Party Chairman Brandon Bell, the Rhode Island Business Coalition and the Providence Journal editorial board.

“Firefighters provide an enormously important public service to the people of Rhode Island, often at significant risk to their own personal health and safety,” the governor wrote in her veto message. But the bill would force officials “to disregard relevant evidence, including the opinions of examining physicians, in granting the benefit.”

The bill passed the Senate 25-9 and the House 58-11, veto-proof majorities in each case if lawmakers decide to take it up and override the governor’s decision.

A Senate spokesman said Wednesday evening no decision has been made yet on whether an override vote should be scheduled.

This is the second bill strongly backed by public-sector labor unions that Raimondo has vetoed this year, following her earlier rejection of a bill to keep municipal union contacts in force after they expire if a new pact has not been finalized. Despite pleas from labor, legislative leaders have so far refused to schedule an override vote on that bill.

A spokesman for Raimondo said no other bills would be vetoed on Wednesday.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) 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