Last week, the Ohio House of Representatives passed the proposed workers’ compensation budget for the next two years, but not before a controversial amendment was added at the last minute. The budget bill, or House Bill 80, was amended to require injured workers to identify themselves as either a U.S. citizen, non-citizen authorized worker, or an illegal or unauthorized alien when filing a workers’ compensation claim in Ohio. While the amendment does not go so far as to expressly prohibit illegal aliens from receiving workers’ compensation benefits, it does state that claimants who provide false information, including regarding their citizenship status, will be ineligible to receive such benefits and may be prosecuted for workers’ compensation fraud under Ohio law.
Support for the amendment is premised on the State’s interest in knowing who is using workers’ compensation benefits and how many undocumented illegal aliens are working here. Proponents believe the collected data will be useful in making future law and policy decisions going forward.
Critics of the amendment, however, worry that its obvious chilling effect in discouraging injury claims from undocumented immigrants will result in other problematic and unintended consequences for Ohio citizens. Critics argue that the amendment actually creates incentive for employers to hire undocumented workers, as those workers will be less likely to file claims for any injuries at work out of fear of getting deported. Some opponents of the amendment have also taken that argument a step further, adding that it then allows employers who actually seek out undocumented workers to save money by cutting corners on safety measures. Another common concern for critics is the potential for undocumented injured workers to seek out medical treatment in emergency rooms without either health insurance or, due to this amendment, workers’ compensation coverage, resulting in unpaid medical bills and costs getting passed along to Ohio taxpayers and people with health insurance.
The amendment passed by a vote of 58 to 36 and the bill itself then passed by a vote of 56 to 38. The bill has now been introduced to the Ohio Senate, where it will go through a similar process as it did in the House of Representatives. The bill must be signed by June 30, 2019 in order to take effect for the new fiscal year.