Ohio may require injured workers to declare citizenship to get workers comp benefits

The Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation budget bill on Wednesday became a flashpoint in the national debate over immigration and worker rights.

The Ohio House voted 57-36 in favor of requiring injured workers to declare whether they are citizens, illegal workers or legal workers on their BWC benefits claim forms. Filing false information would render the worker ineligible for benefits and subject him or her to prosecution for workers compensation fraud.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, presented the requirement as a means to collect valuable information about who is making use of workers’ compensation benefits. In 2017, the House voted in favor of a bill to make illegal workers ineligible for workers’ comp benefits but the bill failed to final approval.

The BWC, which is a state-run insurance program to pay lost wages and medical expenses for injured workers, does not track immigration status.

Related: Undocumented workers could be denied benefits under workers comp

State Rep. Michael Skindell, D-Lakewood, argued against the mandate, saying it would discourage injured workers from filing claims and indirectly shift health care costs associated with their injuries to the taxpayer instead of the employer.

State Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, called the change bad policy, divisive and punitive. “I hope we’ll stop going down this rabbit race and do what’s right,” she said.

The BWC budget bill passed the House on a 55-38 vote.

It includes a provision that will mandate coverage of post traumatic stress disorder as an acquired-on-the-job condition for police, firefighters and emergency medical service workers.

The bill now goes to the Ohio Senate for consideration.

Related: Ohio employers to get $1.5B rebate from workers’ comp program

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