The Ohio House voted today on the Republican-led charge to restrict worker’s access to healthcare and benefits through the state’s $581 million Bureau of Workers’ Compensation (BWC) budget bill, House Bill 27.
GOP lawmakers undertook a significant rewrite of what is typically a noncontroversial budget bill to include benefit restrictions on firefighters with cancer. The $581 million measure also cuts in half the amount of time all workers currently have to file a claim, something Democrats say could economically destabilizes thousands of Ohio families.
“The brave men and women who run into burning buildings while everyone else runs away deserve better than new barriers to care when they are seriously injured or get sick on the job,” said House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn (D-Dayton). “Retreating from firefighters who contract cancer from their dangerous line of work and closing the door early on workers seeking treatment for workplace injuries seriously undermines the economic stability of working families across the state.”
Though Democratic lawmakers were previously able to push GOP lawmakers in House committee to remove greater restrictions on benefit coverage for firefighters with cancer and their families, the final version of the GOP-led bill maintains barriers to coverage for firefighters by allowing employers the opportunity to deny claims based on a belief the cancer was contracted by toxins outside the workplace.
“I am deeply concerned that allowing this poor type of treatment for our firefighters and first responders may put our communities in grave danger,” said Rep. Hearcel Craig (D-Columbus). “Protecting those who protect us is not only the right thing to do, but is key to ensuring a good quality of life for ourselves and the deserving public servants who put their lives on the line for us.”
The new restrictions on BWC coverage for firefighters with cancer weakens the legislature’s bipartisan “Michael Louis Palumbo Jr. Act,” legislation signed into law in January that ensures benefit coverage for firefighters who develop cancer in the line of duty.
HB 27 now heads to the governor’s desk for his signature by July 1.
Here is what House Democratic lawmakers are saying about the bill:
“The fact that the time to file a claim has been cut in half shows a real disrespect for hard-working Ohioans who may be hurt on the job,” said Rep. Catherine Ingram (D-Cincinnati). “Many workers try to go back to work as soon as they can, not realizing the severity of their injuries for an extended period of time. This change will push more employees hurt on the job out of work sooner and longer for fear they will miss the new filing deadline.”
“I simply cannot fathom why my colleagues across the aisle want to hinder firefighters’ access to treatment for work-related illnesses,” said Rep. Glenn Holmes (D-McDonald). “Restricting the number of years to file a claim for work-related injuries is an attempt to save money that comes at the cost of saving lives.”
“Restricting essential benefits for those who have risked their lives daily to protect and serve our communities is unconscionable,” said Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan (D-Youngstown). “These individuals deserve to be looked after in the same manner they have looked after us for so many years, and to do anything less is nothing short of an insult to their service and sacrifices.”
“I cannot imagine why anybody would want to make it harder for firefighters to get help treating their cancer,” said Rep. Thomas West (D-Canton). “These are the men and women risking everything to save lives in our communities every single day. The idea that Ohio should turn their back on these heroes in their time of need is uncaring and simply wrong.”
“Plain and simple, this is a major scale-back of workers’ rights,” said Rep. John Boccieri (D-Poland). “The Republicans have taken a bill that has enjoyed bipartisan support for decades, made it controversial by stripping back benefits, and are calling it a reform bill. I’m really disappointed in the Legislature’s efforts on this one.”