The governor and Beacon Hill’s top lawmakers say they will leave it to a special commission to look into any issues involving accidental disability retirement pensions for public employees.

The governor and Beacon Hill’s top lawmakers say they will leave it to a special commission to look into any issues involving accidental disability retirement pensions for public employees.


The Patriot Ledger reported last week that more than 10 percent of all public employees on the South Shore retire with the beefed-up pension that will cost local city and towns $23 million this year.


Gov. Deval Patrick, Senate President Therese Murray and House Speaker Robert DeLeo were asked Monday whether they felt the present rules for accidental disability retirements need to be re-examined.


All responded by issuing statements lauding recently passed pension changes that eliminated some breaks that have largely been available to a limited number of people – politicians themselves. They also said they were looking forward to the report due on Sept. 1 of a special 15-member commission on public employee pension changes.


As reported in a three-day investigative series last week, The Patriot Ledger found that two-thirds of accidental disability pensions go to police and firefighters, largely because of laws that presume heart conditions and high blood pressure must be the result of on-the-job conditions. For firefighters, those presumptions extend to lung and respiratory conditions, and cancers. Massachusetts is one of 20 states that recognize heart disease as automatically job-related, and one of only six that treats high blood pressure that way.


The Ledger series also pointed to specific cases in which local officials and even members of the Quincy retirement board felt the system had been abused by decisions awarding tax-free accidental disability pensions.


Sen. Robert Hedlund, R-Weymouth, said he didn’t have high expectations the so-called “blue ribbon” commission’s report would lead to legislation. He called last week’s pension reform bill “window dressing” that didn’t get to the heart of the issue.


He noted that he and other GOP senators offered amendments to the bill – like capping annual pension payments – that were voted down and instead left to the commission.


“You can understand why I would be skeptical,” Hedlund said. “Prolonging this effort further into the session ... you wonder if they’re just going to run the clock on it.”


But two other South Shore lawmakers – Reps. James Cantwell, D-Marshfield, and Garrett Bradley, D-Hingham – both said they expect the commission’s recommendations to lead to legislative action.


“I don’t think this is going to get filed in the drawer,” Bradley said. “I think legislation will be filed at a high level of leadership, or perhaps even by the governor.”


Cantwell – who filed two bills on pension issues that were incorporated into last week’s reform measure – said while he believes the majority of disability pensions are “completely fair,” he said the commission should examine ways to cut back on the potential for fraud.


“There needs to be continued attention to this issue,” Cantwell said. “The commission report needs to be taken seriously.”


Nancy Reardon can be reached at nreardon@ledger.com.