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West: Democratic priorities help shape Workers Comp budget

First responder PTSD benefits, employee misclassification reform among wins for working people
June 6, 2019
Thomas West News

Ohio House Democratic lawmakers today applauded the passage of House Bill (HB) 80, the two-year state Bureau of Workers Compensation (BWC) budget, which contained a number of Democratic priorities, including benefits for first responders with PTSD and reforms to the state’s employee misclassification laws.

“Part of Ohio’s fundamental promise is that everyone should be able to live, work and retire here with safety and security, and the work our Democratic members put into this bill brings us one step closer to keeping that promise to everyday Ohioans,” said Minority Leader Emilia Strong Sykes (D-Akron). “This budget delivers real results for working people and families by extending benefits for our first responders and better protecting Ohio workers.”

Key Democratic priorities, like allowing first responders suffering from work-related PTSD to be recognized in a BWC claim and protecting workers by prohibiting employers from misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor, were included in the bill.

“Ohio is stronger when we stand with working people,” said Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), the lead Democrat on the Finance committee. “Democratic priorities like benefits for first responders with PTSD and commonsense employee misclassification protections strengthen working people and families, and give more Ohioans a shot at a better life and brighter future.”

Democrats objected, however, to a last minute GOP-backed provision that would make it harder for undocumented workers to file a BWC claim, a move they say could encourage employers illegally hire more undocumented workers, threaten workplace safety, and be costly to Ohio taxpayers who would have to foot the bill for non-citizens injured or killed on the job.

State Rep. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) countered the provision, offering an amendment to put the responsibility to verify an employee’s legal status back on the employer, which would better protect workers and save taxpayers money. Republicans tabled the amendment.

“We need to place the liability of hiring an employee back where it belongs - on the employer. We cannot give law-breaking corporations a free pass and expect taxpayers to cover the cost,” said Rep. Galonski. “Every Ohio worker deserves to feel safe on the job and secure that they’ll be fairly compensated if they get injured through no fault of their own. That’s the Ohio promise. We cannot turn our backs on working people.”

HB 80 includes $319.8 million in BWC funding for Fiscal Year 2020 and $324.8 million for Fiscal Year 2021.

The Ohio BWC is the exclusive provider of workers’ compensation insurance in Ohio. The agency also provides workplace safety consulting services, safety and hygiene training, and other programs for Ohio employers to support safe and healthy workplaces.

After passing the House, the bill moves to the Senate for consideration.

Here is what other Democratic lawmakers are saying about HB 80:

“Our firefighters, police officers, and other first responders are exposed to a high level of trauma that our average citizen does not face and it can take a heavy toll on their lives and has led to suicides if untreated.  Today we addressed this burden of work related PTSD, through the Workmen’s Compensation Budget so that Our first responders get the support they need and deserve. I was happy to again to support working people with the support they need to survive and fill the Ohio Promise.” –Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton)

“The passage of H.B. 80 is good for our dedicated Police Officers, Firefighters, and EMS workers because they will now be able to file Workers’ Compensation claims due to PTSD. Our first responders makes sacrifices for our safety every day and their mental wellness deserves to be acknowledged and treated.” –Rep. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo)

“Though I know that the bill would have passed without my vote, it is important to say to our negatively impacted first responders that we care about their lives. Questions to be asked of alleged undocumented workers is a backdoor scheme to penalize those individuals, but I believe the Senate will be deliberate, and realize that an employer truly has the responsibility to follow Ohio and Federal guidelines for hiring workers, and should be held accountable if that worker is injured on the job. If they are not penalized, they will hire workers deliberately, put them in unsafe environments, and never have to comply because their workers aren’t really ‘workers.’” –Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati)