The Ohio House passed a $645 million Bureau of Workers’ Compensation budget Wednesday, including new coverage for post-traumatic stress disorder for first responders and a citizenship question for claimants.
The two-year budget passed by a vote of 56 to 38, after adding an amendment to require citizenship information on the forms used to file a claim.
If signed into law, the forms will require claimants to state if they are a U.S. citizen, an illegal alien or an unauthorized alien. If not a citizen, they must provide their “alien registration number or other signifiers that they are authorized to work” in the United States.
The amendment defines an illegal alien as someone who is “deportable if apprehended.” An unauthorized alien is someone who is not eligible to be employed.
While the amendment requires the legal status of those filing a claim, it does not deny compensation or benefits based on that status.
The amendment to add the citizenship language passed 58-36, along party lines.
The budget bill also includes a new provision making peace officers, firefighters and emergency medical workers who are diagnosed with PTSD eligible for compensation and benefits, even if there is no accompanying physical injury. Current law only allows coverage of mental conditions if they arise from, or are associated with, a physical injury.
The Ohio Manufacturers Association (OMA), the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Ohio Township Association opposed the PTSD provision.
In testimony to the Finance Committee, Rob Brundrett, OMA’s Director of Public Policy Services, said first responders are “not alone in their willingness to undertake dangerous and essential jobs for the good of us all.”
“If we erode the physical injury requirement for peace officers, firefighters, and emergency medical workers,” he explained, “it may be difficult to justify not doing the same for other professionals who seek equal treatment.”
Charlie Smith, Special Counsel for the NFIB in Ohio, had similar concerns, calling the provision a “drastic departure from over 100 years of Ohio law.”
“Additionally,” he said, “selecting a narrow subset of Ohio’s workforce for these benefits raises the risk of violating the constitutional requirement of equal protection provided to all employees. Who in this legislature can confidently explain why only a favored or protected class of workers deserves a more generous benefit than another person with the identical problem or condition?”
Smith also said that if there is “truly and important crisis requiring a change in public policy for these select groups, we suggest housing the solution outside of the BWC.”
The Ohio Township Association agreed.
“Selecting one mental condition to the exclusion of all others – much like selecting only a few occupations – will undoubtedly provoke fairness arguments and equal protection challenges in future legislative or judicial actions,” said Matthew DeTemple, the group’s Executive Director.
“The provision,” he said, “would be better suited for standalone legislation to fully assess the implications of the change.”
The County Commissioners Association of Ohio and the Ohio Chamber of Commerce also opposed the provision.
The groups are expected to take their opposition to the Senate, which still must vote on the measure.
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