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Mayors’ concerns sway Rendell veto

The Scranton Times-Tribune
by robert swift (harrisburg bureau chief)

HARRISBURG – Mayors played a key role in influencing Gov. Ed Rendell to veto legislation providing financial benefits to cancer-stricken firefighters, the governor said Monday.

Twenty mayors, including Scranton’s Chris Doherty, wrote that the bill would have a severe impact on cities’ ability to pay for current fire services if enacted.

“Twenty mayors were telling me it would be a fiscal disaster,” said Mr. Rendell, explaining his veto.

The measure, sponsored by Rep. Kevin Murphy, D-113, Scranton, would declare certain cancers suffered by professional and volunteer firefighters an occupation-caused disease, thus qualifying them for workers’ compensation benefits. It would shift the burden of proof to quality for benefits from the individual to the municipal employer.

This bill, reflecting a House-Senate compromise, was one of the last passed in the legislative session that officially ends today. Mr. Murphy plans to reintroduce the bill next session.

The mayors drafted a letter to the governor during a meeting last week of the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities, Mr. Doherty said.

He was especially critical of a provision that would allow a firefighter to use tobacco products for two years before a municipality could cite that habit to rebut a claim.

“It’s just an unfair responsibility on the taxpayer,” Mr. Doherty said.

Mr. Rendell said he reviewed estimates from municipal workers’ compensation insurance trusts that insurance rates would skyrocket and threaten their ability to underwrite coverage of occupational cancer.

Saying that firefighters already get substantial protection if their work exposed them to lung cancer, Mr. Rendell said he offered lawmakers a compromise to cover additional cancers and allow municipalities to rebut a claim that a cancer is work-related through a “preponderance of the evidence.”

However, Mr. Murphy disputed that the governor offered a compromise to the bill. The veto didn’t recognize that amendments were added to rein in costs which would have been minimal in any event, he said, adding that a letter signed by 20 mayors is offset by the near-unanimous votes for the bill’s passage.

“I was reassured many times that the governor didn’t have any concerns and that he would sign the bill,” Mr. Murphy said. “I thought it (veto) was a decision made in bad faith on the part of the governor.”

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