COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House OK'd the biennial budget for the Bureau of Workers' Compensation Wednesday, including language barring payments to undocumented immigrants and potentially limiting claims by firefighters dealing with cancer.
HB 27 passed on a split vote of 65-29 and heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration. It's one of several budget bills lawmakers are tackling in advance of the new fiscal year on July 1 and is separate from the larger state operating budget.
Rep. Thomas Brinkman (R-Mount Lookout) said the BWC budget is flat funded from the current biennium. The system provides coverage for workers at 244,000-plus employers, who pay BWC costs through premiums and assessments. In recent years, rates charged by the system have dropped, and rebates have been paid to employers, thanks in part to higher-than-anticipated investment returns.
House Republicans added several amendments to the legislation during committee deliberations that prompted debate during Wednesday's floor session.
One would enable employers to rebut injury claims from cancer-stricken firefighters if they can prove "by a preponderance of competent scientific evidence" that the carcinogens that caused the disease came from sources outside of their firefighting work, according to an analysis by the state's Legislative Service Commission.
Other language would limit such cancer-related claims to 15 years from a firefighter's last assigned hazardous duty, instead of the 20 years in current law.
A separate amendment would prohibit "illegal and unauthorized aliens from receiving compensation and certain benefits and prohibits an employer from electing to cover those aliens," according to LSC.
Democrats voiced concern about the amendments and attempted unsuccessfully Wednesday to remove the disputed language from the bill.
Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland) offered an amendment to strike language reducing the time workers have to initiate injury claims to one year from two.
"There are fundamental questions from our side of the aisle about taking way the rights of injured workers who have experienced an incident under one set of rules and would not be subject to a different set of rules should the provision remain," he said. " I just don't subscribe to the issue that taking away someone's rights will improve reporting standards at the Bureau of Workers' Comp."
Boccieri also criticized language that would bar workers' compensation claims from illegal or unauthorized immigrants, saying the provision would shift responsibility for injured workers away from their employers.
"If an undocumented worker is injured while on the job, they're going to be treated at hospitals throughout Ohio," he said. " The legislature is providing the very businesses that hire undocumented workers a free pass and forcing hospitals and health care plans and Bob and Betty Buckeye to pay for undocumented workers' injuries."
But Rep. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) said illegal aliens in Ohio already are prohibited from receiving unemployment compensation, food stamps and other benefits.
"But for years, the Bureau of Workers' Comp has never checked to see whether illegal aliens are receiving workers compensation," Seitz said, adding, "Every dollar paid in compensation to people who are here illegally is a dollar that legitimate employers are having to pay into the BWC system or a dollar that is unavailable for legitimate, hardworking legal aliens and legal workers who are working in our state."
Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.