The Ohio House is expected to pass a bill that would prevent undocumented immigrants from filing workers’ compensation claims. The measure is expected to pass despite having no committee testimony in favor of the proposal.
Those opposed to the bill say it will encourage businesses to hire more undocumented workers, as their premiums will no longer rise if an illegal worker files a claim. Those in favor of the bill say the current law is providing incentives for businesses to hire undocumented workers.
“The Ohio Workers First Act is a common-sense plan that puts Ohio workers and Ohio jobs first,” says Rep. Bill Seitz. “It sends the message that Ohio believes in the rule of law and doesn’t support illegal immigration.”
The state’s workers’ compensation program is funded by employer premiums. No business group stepped forward to support the bill during the committee hearings. The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation has not come out in support of the law change.
Several groups have voiced their opposition of the bill, including Ohio AFL-CIO, ACLU of Ohio, the Ohio Association for Justice and the Catholic Conference of Ohio.
“The workers’ compensation system was designed to make sure workers are protected financially in the event of a workplace injury,” says personal injury attorney Howard Ankin. “In exchange, the employee is generally not permitted to sue the employer in court for damages related to those injuries.”
If the bill passes, undocumented workers will not receive the protections the workers’ compensation system intended to provide.
“We are giving employers a shield for hiring illegal aliens by shifting the responsibility to pay medical bills from employers and the workers’ compensation system to taxpayers,” said Representative John Boccieri, who is opposed to the legislation.
Boccieri says undocumented workers who cannot receive care through the workers’ compensation system will go to emergency rooms, and the bill will be passed on to other patients and taxpayers.
The bill, House Bill 380, would require injured workers to certify that they are permitted to work in the United States. If an undocumented worker files a claim, that claim would not be paid.
A similar measure passed through the House earlier in the year as part of the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation budget, but the legislation never made it through the Senate.
Even lawmakers who are staunchly opposed to illegal immigration have questioned whether the bill will accomplish the goal of cracking down on illegal aliens.
“In a strange way, while the goal is to crack down on the hiring of illegal immigrants, it could, some argue, have the opposite effect of that,” said Senator Jay Hottinger. “If there is not going to be consequences for them, and it’s no longer going to show up on an employer’s workers’ comp claim, for what I hope would be a very small handful of bad actors, it could have the perverse effect of encouraging the hiring of illegal immigrants.”
While the bill is expected to pass the House, it may face some turbulence when trying to pass through the Senate.