Lawmakers pull OT bill; now seeking study on public safety schedules

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The so-called “overtime bill” that appeared to be on the fast track to passage earlier this week fizzled without ever coming to a committee vote Thursday, as leading lawmakers backed off the legislation amid strong opposition from mayors and town managers across the state.

Instead, one of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Frank Lombardi, D-Cranston, said he wants to commission an independent review of staffing, scheduling, and overtime in public safety departments across the state before any law that would further define their work week is proposed.

“I submitted this legislation because of concerns I have about public safety and fairness,” Lombardi said in a statement. “Since that time I have heard from many constituents who have concerns about the bill. My concerns are always with my constituents first. In light of the sentiments they have expressed to me, I believe we should proceed with caution, and only after a truly independent analysis.”

The House and Senate Labor Committees canceled scheduled votes on the bill Thursday in the face of public opposition from Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee and the majority of municipal leaders across the state. Gov. Gina Raimondo had also expressed concern about the legislation but never indicated whether she would veto the bill if it landed on her desk.

The legislation would have required that firefighters be paid time-and-a-half pay for working more than 42 hours in an average work week unless a union contract expressed otherwise. Police officers would be paid overtime for working more than 40 hours in a week.

The bill was submitted after Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza announced plans to restructure his city’s fire department, a plan that would eliminate one of the current four platoons and require firefighters to go from working 42 hours a week to 56 hours. The firefighters’ union said it was blindsided by the plan and noted that it has a contract in place until June 30, 2017.

The administration and union officials continued to meet behind closed doors Thursday, but no agreement has been reached on the proposed changes. Elorza has set a June 30 deadline for reaching a deal, but he hasn’t said what actions he’ll take if a new contract isn’t in place.

Nonetheless, the mayor said he was pleased to learn lawmakers planned to hold off on voting on the overtime legislation.

“I appreciate the leadership of our State House leaders and I look forward to continue negotiating a fair agreement with the Providence Fire Fighters Local 799,” Elorza said in a prepared statement.

McKee, the lieutenant governor who stood side by side with municipal leaders to fight the bill, said he supports the idea of conducting a “full and thoughtful study of this complex issue.”

“On behalf of municipal leaders and the taxpayers of our state, I look forward to working with the General Assembly on ways we can help our cities and towns operate more efficiently,” McKee said in a statement. “I commit to working with the House and Senate leadership to make decisions that are in the best interests of everyone as we do the hard work of rebuilding Rhode Island’s economy.”

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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