Montana Representative Gordon Vance's (R- House District 76) House Bill 71 denying workers compensation benefits to certain individuals is now before a Senate Judiciary Committee in the state. Vance's bill would prohibit illegal immigrant workers from collecting benefits when they are injured.
He says his bill is a simple way to reduce the high costs to the workers compensation system, which sees the highest costs in the county.
Those in favor of the bill say illegal aliens don't deserve the treatment and it would give employers the incentive to hire with more scrutiny but opponents argue that it opens the door for lawsuits and they voiced concern over the loss of exclusive remedy to employers.
“It’s a complex problem that doesn’t have just one solution there’s a lot of things we need to look at and a lot of changes we need to make,” says Representative Vance.
Vance also mentions one of the key problems illegal immigrants pose to Montana's workers' comp system. Under current law, when an illegal alien is awarded benefits, they may leave the country and those benefits will still be sent to them at their new address.
“But these are still workers who have put themselves in harm’s way. They are people who have performed their jobs and will now be denied the benefits that their employers paid for and their labor has supported the payments for. We think that this fundamentally unfair,” says Niki Zupanic, Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Montana.
House Bill 71 passed through the House initially, with a vote of 61 to 39. If passed, Montana would be the first state in the nation to completely ban illegal aliens from receiving workers’ compensation.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear a workers compensation insurance case regarding an illegal immigrant in Louisiana who had sought coverage after a workplace accident. The Court’s refusal to look at the case means states are left to decide the issue of whether workers who entered the United States illegally may benefit from workers comp coverage.