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Victory for corrections officers in Maine

Victory for corrections officers in Maine
By AFSCME Council 93 ·

AUGUSTA, Maine - On April 25th, AFSCME Council 93 was able to achieve a long-sought victory in the state of Maine by securing funding for the so-called Heart Bill for Maine corrections officers.

This legislation creates what is known as a “rebuttable presumption” that any heart disease or hypertension suffered by a state corrections officer is a line-of-duty injury and renders the officer eligible for either short-term or permanent disability pay.

This is not a slam dunk for corrections officers with heart disease by any means. It simply shifts the burden of proof from the individual employee to the state. In other words, the job is guilty of causing the heart disease unless proven otherwise. Given that corrections officers suffer heart disease at among the highest levels of any profession, this is an entirely appropriate benefit.

It’s also an unusual one.  According to the AFSCME International Research Department, only six other states in the country (one of which is Massachusetts) provide this benefit.

The bill’s path to passage has been a long and circuitous one. The bill received initial passage by the Maine House and Senate in June of 2021, but it was among many bills that had to compete for a limited amount of funding at the end of the session by joint House/Senate Appropriations Committee, commonly referred to “The Table.”

The Table is charged with dividing up funds that remain after general budget appropriations. So while the Heart Bill “passed,” it wasn’t funded. That changed recently when funding for the bill was included in The Table’s recommendations, and on the final day of Maine’s two-year legislative session, the House and Senate voted for enactment. The bill is now on Governor Janet Mills’ desk awaiting signature.

This is the third major piece of legislation that Council 93 has passed during the current legislative session in Maine. One such bill was the Taxpayer Protection Act (known as the Pacheco Law in Massachusetts), which creates appropriate taxpayer safeguards before privatizing public services.

The second bill also impacts corrections officers by closing the loophole in the 1998 law that lowered the age of retirement for corrections officers from age 62 to age 55, except for those hired before 1998. The retirement age for corrections officers in Maine is now consistent regardless of date of hire, as it should be.

Particularly critical to this latest victory was lead sponsor and champion of the Heart Bill, Senate President Troy Jackson. Sen. Jackson fought not only for initial passage last year, but also for funding from The Table. Indeed, Sen. Jackson was also the lead sponsor of the corrections retirement bill passed earlier this session and was crucial to getting all three of these bills passed and funded. He has been a consistent champion and defender of public sector workers in Maine, and Council 93 is grateful for his leadership.

*This story is being featured as part of National Correctional Officers and Employees Week.

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