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Md. gov. announces firefighter pension, workers comp bills

Surrounded by firefighters from across the state, Gov. Larry Hogan announced two pieces of legislation that he said were necessary to protect firefighters

By Phil Davis
The Capital

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Gov. Larry Hogan stepped up his calls to the General Assembly to measures that would reduce the tax burden on public safety officials’ retirement benefits at a press conference at the Eastport Volunteer Fire Company Wednesday.

Surrounded by firefighters from across the state, the governor announced the introduction of two pieces of legislation that he said were a necessary way to protect firefighters in the state.

“We’re are not going to stop until you don’t have to pay taxes on your pension,” Hogan said to a round of applause from a group of firefighters from around the state.

Titled the “Hometown Heroes Act of 2019,” Senate Bill 171 would exempt retired public safety officials — ranging from firefighters to corrections officers — from paying state taxes on retirement income specific to their employment.

Michael Rund, president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maryland and a firefighter in Howard County, lauded Hogan’s efforts, saying it built off of previous bills that reduce the tax burden.

“Well, we’re back again this year to try to get exactly what he wanted from the first time, which is 100 percent of our pensions not being taxed in the state of Maryland,” he said.

House Bill 231 would increase the amount of retirement benefits exempt from taxes from $7,000 to $10,000. The bill has broad Republican support, including Anne Arundel delegates Nic Kipke, R-Pasadena, and Sid Saab, R-Crownsville.

Hogan said it’s been part of an effort to relieve the overall tax burden on retirees in the state, but that he wanted to try to get legislation specifically tackling public safety officials’ retirement funds after running into resistance for his greater plan.

“I wanted to start by cracking the door at least on those folks who are putting their lives on the line for the rest of us,” Hogan said.

The governor also spoke of his desire to extend workers’ compensation claims to include diagnoses for certain types of cancer.

Hogan said firefighters who contract renal or kidney cancer are a relatively new topic to tackle for the state, saying “we hadn’t been aware (of it) years ago.”

Joe Addivinola, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1563 which represents Anne Arundel County firefighters, said two firefighters — Eric Durham and Tom Stag — have been diagnosed with cancer in recent years. Both are 56 years old and served as firefighters for 32 years.

Anne Arundel County Fire Chief Wolford said, in meeting with the union, expanding workers’ compensation coverage became one of their shared goals going into this year’s General Assembly session.

During his speech, Hogan spoke of Jessie McCullough, a Prince George’s County firefighter who died last year after being diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017.

The governor, who underwent his own treatment for cancer after winning his first gubernatorial race in 2014, said “we have to be there for you.”

He said he would make it his mission to get a bill passed in the General Assembly that would expand workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters to include more types of occupational cancers.

“There’s not a question in my mind that this is a bill that needs to be passed,” he said.

Copyright 2019 The Capital