NOVEMBER 2012 VOICE: At long last the twelve-member Special Commission on Accidental Disability held its initial meeting this September at the State House.

Created within last year’s Chapter 176 pension reform bill, the statute’s language included: there shall be a special commission to investigate and study all aspects of the accidental disability provisions of the Massachusetts contributory retirement system as well as the provisions of injured on duty benefits and presumptions for public employees in the general laws… With periodic press criticism of disability pensions, most recently a series of articles in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette focusing on the “need to look closely at the criteria for allowing public safety personnel to retire with tax-free disability pensions,” there was concern by employee unions of a possible “witch hunt” on Beacon Hill.

However, the Commission co-chairmen Senator William Brownsberger and Rep. John Scibak utilized this meeting as a primer to familiarize all Commissioners of the current and past history of our disability law and the present status of the implementation of this law.
This was accomplished largely through comprehensive data and reports by Commissioner Joe Connarton, director of PERAC and Nick Favorito, director the State Retirement Board representing State Treasurer Steve Grossman, a Commissioner.

Until the Disability Commission holds hearings, it is difficult to say what issues will emerge. Disability reform is not a new issue. The creation of the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission (PERAC) in 1996 (Ch. 306) focused on major disability changes and future governance of disability retirees.

Numerous rules and regulations, further tightening disability retirements, have since been promulgated by PERAC and approved by the Legislature.

Length of leave benefits for police, firefighters and correction officers injured while on duty is an issue that pops up from time to time. It is mentioned in the Commission’s study language. These employees are strongly represented on the Commission by Association President Ralph White and Professional Firefighters President Ed Kelly.

It was decided that the next two meetings of the Commission would be public hearings. The first was conducted at the State House on October 15 and the second in Worcester on October 18.

“Although the Commission originally had an October 1 reporting date, this date could possibly be extended until early next year,” said Representative John Scibak.