“Opening Day” For Public Service Committee

“Opening Day” For Public Service Committee
Joint Committee on Public Service Hears Testimony

Survivor Remarriage Bill Among First Heard 

APRIL 9, 2019: A City of Boston home-rule petition allowing surviving spouses to retain their health insurance coverage upon remarriage was among a dozen bills heard before the Joint Committee on Public Service’s inaugural hearing on Tuesday.

“Welcome to Opening Day,” proclaimed State Representative Jerry Parisella (D-Beverly), who together with State Senator Mike Brady (D-Brockton), chairs the Joint Committee. Rep. Gerry Cassidy (D-Brockton) and Senator Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) are the Committee’s vice chairs. 

Mass Retirees’ officials were on hand to testify in support of S.1483, which is a home-rule petition of the City of Boston that would allow the city to continue health insurance benefits for surviving spouses of Boston firefighters. Current state law, dating back more than a half century, requires survivors to forfeit health insurance benefits upon their remarriage. The bill strikes the remarriage penalty from the law, but specifically excludes the new spouse or children (who were not dependents of the employee or retiree) from receiving insurance benefits.

In 2000, a Mass Retirees sponsored law was passed (Chapter 159, Acts of 2000) that allowed all survivors to retain their survivor pension upon remarriage. However, the remarriage penalty for insurance benefits continues. Prior to the passage of Chapter 159, survivors lost both their spousal pension and health insurance benefit if they remarried. 

For the past nineteen years the Association has sponsored legislation to remove the remarriage penalty in its entirety for all surviving spouses. This session, bills have been filed in the House and Senate, H.2222 by Rep. Marjorie Decker (D-Cambridge) and S.1575 by Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton).

Boston’s legislation, S.1483, is sponsored by Senator Nick Collins (D-South Boston). The bill, which has the support of Mayor Marty Walsh and the Boston City Council, is the result of years of staunch advocacy by Boston Firefighters Local 718.

“I’m very thankful to Mayor Walsh and the Boston Firefighters for the work that has been done to bring the remarriage penalty back under the spotlight. Penalizing widows and widowers simply because they choose to remarry is wrong. This is an old fashion antiquated law that should have been struck from the books decades ago,” says former Mass Retirees President Ralph White, who led the charge to pass Chapter 159 in 2000. “We worked closely with Paul Haley (former House Ways and Means chairman) to strike the remarriage pension forfeiture clause. Paul had a constituent who was impacted and, as they say, all politics is local.

“Regrettably, we were not able to include a fix for survivor’s insurance benefits at that time. Since then we were never able to regain the focus needed to pass a further correction. Hopefully, 2019 can finally be the right time to modernize this very antiquated law!”

In testimony at today’s hearing, Mass Retirees Legislative Director Shawn Duhamel called upon the Committee to favorably release S.1483, as well as both H.2222 and S.1575.