AJC – Bill seeks ban on workers’ comp for illegal immigrants in Georgia | ajc.com

Bill seeks ban on workers’ comp for illegal immigrants in Georgia  | ajc.com

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

State lawmakers filed legislation Monday seeking to ban illegal immigrants from collecting workers’ compensation benefits for on-the-job injuries in Georgia.

Sponsored by Sen. Bill Heath, SB7 would prohibit people from collecting wage loss and medical benefits unless they were in the country legally at the time of their injury. Similar legislation is moving through the Montana Legislature.

More legislation dealing with illegal immigration — much more — is expected to be filed in Georgia’s statehouse this week. State lawmakers have introduced bills already aimed at barring illegal immigrants from attending state colleges and blocking employers from hiring them.

Heath, a Republican from Bremen, is sponsoring SB7 along with other senators, including Majority Leader Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, and Jack Murphy, R-Cumming, who is co-chairman of a special study committee on immigration. Heath said that a constituent brought the workers’ compensation issue to his attention.

“There is great concern by Georgians over illegal immigration issues,” Heath said. “This is not just an issue that affects (my district) but should be of great importance to every individual who lives, works, pays taxes or is educated in our state.”

The head of the state workers’ compensation board declined to comment on SB7, but he said the Georgia Court of Appeals has held for years that such workers are entitled to these benefits. Illegal immigrants have been awarded the benefits in Georgia based on the court’s decision, though the state has not kept track of how much, said Rick Thompson, chairman of the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.

“We know that happens all the time,” Thompson said, “because the Court of Appeals has mandated that they are eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits. The decisions of the Georgia Court of Appeals are binding on the State Board of Workers’ Compensation.”

Asked about Thompson’s comments, Heath said: “While I have a huge respect for the other branches of government, judicial and executive, it is the legislative branch that is charged with making the laws.”

John Sweet, an Atlanta attorney who has represented people seeking such benefits, agreed with Thompson about the court’s decisions. Sweet said that if SB7 were to go into effect, it could “encourage employers to engage in illegal activity by hiring workers for whom they would ultimately never have to pay workers’ compensation benefits.”


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