PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A state budget provision aimed at reducing the number of sheriffs who are collecting their full-pay tax-free — sometimes for years — because of on-the-job injury claims has taken a major step forward.
Tucked into the near $10 billion budget proposed by Gov. Gina Raimondo in January is a provision that reforms the state’s injured-on-duty (IOD) system. The House Finance Committee passed the budget proposal on Friday evening, keeping the budget amendment addressing IOD intact.
The move was an about-face from last year, when lawmakers killed similar reforms after strong opposition from organized labor.
As Target 12 reported last year, 23 out of 179 sheriffs were on what’s called injured on duty (IOD) status for getting hurt on the job as of September. That number has declined to 18 since the report, according to Laura Meade Kirk, a state police spokesperson.
Video Now: Tim White explains reform to IOD pay for sheriffs
The injury ratio far outpaces other arms of law enforcement across the state, and the Raimondo administration has said the reforms proposed in the budget would save roughly $1.6 million a year.
Under the budget article, any sheriff who is collecting IOD pay must apply for an accidental disability pension within 60 days of a doctor determining they have reached “maximum medical improvement,” or after being out injured for a maximum of 18 months.
And the IOD benefit would end no matter what decision is made by the retirement board.
“Any person employed by the state of Rhode Island receiving injured on-duty payments who has been issued a final adjudication of the state retirement board on an application for an ordinary or accidental disability benefit, either approving or denying said application, shall have his/her injured on-duty payments terminated,” the budget article states.
The House Finance committee passed the budget in a 12-3 vote late Friday night.
Brenna McCabe, a spokesperson for the R.I. Department of Administration, said Raimondo and her aides are “pleased the General Assembly’s budget includes the administration’s proposal to make the necessary changes to reform the injured on duty system.”
“What was intended to be a temporary program had morphed into a system that, in many cases, resulted in years of tax-free benefits for employees without a clear path to resolution,” McCabe said in an email. “Our proposal ensures the program is in place for employees who need it while protecting taxpayers and addressing several longstanding cases in the process.”
The reforms would impact the vast majority of sheriffs out on IOD, most of whom have been out more than 18 months. Those employees would have 90 days to file for an accidental disability pension with the state retirement board.
The budget is expected to be voted on by the full House on Friday, and will then head to the Senate for consideration.
An email to AFSCME Council 94, the union that represents sheriffs, was not returned.