Immigration Legislation Update- Senate Bill 323
May 7, 2012 · Print This Article
Wrestling with the interaction of state services and undocumented immigrants has become a relatively common point of contention in state legislatures all over the country, and Ohio is no exception. In the past 13 months, members have introduced a dozen measures dealing with undocumented Ohioans. But none of these measures had moved beyond sponsor testimony until yesterday.
Senate Bill 323 – authored by Senator Bill Seitz of Hamilton County – would exclude undocumented workers from eligibility for state worker’s compensation benefits. Ohio’s workers compensation law (Ohio Revised Code Sec. 4123) is currently the operative authority. Provisions of this law make compensation for job-related injury or occupational illness almost universal, as it declares: “every person in the service of any person, firm, or private corporation, including any public service corporation, that employs one or more persons regularly in the same business or in or about the same establishment under any contract of hire, express or implied, oral or written, including aliens“ shall be eligible for the benefits and compensation. Because the law fails to define the term “alien”, many legislators support legislation such as SB 323 that would allow the term “alien” to only include only those individuals authorized to work by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This would effectively exclude undocumented workers from eligibility for many of the benefits that citizens or otherwise-authorized workers receive in this state.
Introduced on April 3, 2012, this bill would prohibit all undocumented immigrants who lack a work visa from receiving worker’s compensation from Ohio taxpayers. S.B. 323 does so by requiring that those individuals who claim compensation benefits certify that they are currently an eligible employee. According to Senator Seitz, misrepresentation of legal status could lead to prosecution for fraud under his legislation. He said that this would be the same procedure the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services currently uses in screening for benefits. Another provision of the bill exempts employers from liability for their worker’s injury, so long as the employer can demonstrate that he did not knowingly or intentionally hire an individual that was not authorized to work in the United States. These employers would still be liable for their intentional torts, however. Senator Seitz noted that the Bureau of Workers Compensation saw his legislation as a workable solution, and that Wyoming, Florida and Idaho have enacted similar measures. He said his legislation could have the additional effect of making undocumented immigrants less-likely to seek work in Ohio.
At sponsor testimony last week, some Senators voiced concerns. Senator Edna Brownasked if there was evidence that undocumented workers were pursuing workers compensation claims. Senator Seitz responded that he doesn’t have that data because currently the Bureau does not ask applicants. Senator Brown then asked why an undocumented person would willingly approach the government in this manner, when it may carry the risks of exposure or even deportation. Senator Seitz said that under the current system, there is no disincentive for applying for workers compensation benefits.
Senator Keith Faber also expressed concerns. He noted that the bill puts the onus of investigation on the Bureau of Workers Compensation – which already has limited resources. Senator Faber also argued that the burden should not be placed upon the employee’s honesty and the Bureau’s investigative capacity but rather on the employer. He reasoned that as they are already required to have I-9 (worker eligibility) forms on file for each employee, they’re best-positioned to certify a claimant’s eligibility.
The legislation also had proponent testimony in front of the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee yesterday. I have attached a link to that testimony below.
Please see the link below for an LSC analysis of the legislation. The Public Policy Center will continue to report on this legislation as it moves through Ohio’s General Assembly. If you have further questions, comments or concerns; or if you are interested in testifying or meeting with legislators, please contact me. Attendees will have an opportunity to address legislators at next week’s Hispanic Legislative Day in the Statehouse. If you have not yet done so, please register for the event at www.ohiohcc.com.
LSC Analysis: http://www.lsc.state.oh.us/analyses129/s0323-i-129.pdf
Sponsor Testimony – Senator Seitz: SB 323 Sponsor Testimony
Proponent Testimony: SB 323 Proponent Testimony