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Workers' Comp Bill Could Aid Injured Immigrants

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Mercedes Marler (Flickr)
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

A Senate committee Tuesday narrowly approved a bill that would eliminate part of Florida law that allows employers to deny benefits to injured workers who use other people’s Social Security numbers or identification to obtain jobs.

Approved in a 6-4 vote by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, the bill (SB 1568) would eliminate a provision put into law in 2003 that made it felony insurance fraud for people to knowingly present false or misleading information about their identities for obtaining employment.

But another part of workers’ compensation law defines worker as “any person who receives remuneration from any employer … whether lawfully or unlawfully employed, and includes, but is not limited to, aliens and minors.”                            

Bill sponsor Gary Farmer, D-Fort Lauderdale, told the committee that the purpose of the bill is “to ensure that workers who are injured on the job, who were fulfilling their obligation, injured because of a dangerous workplace condition or something happened on the job, receive the benefits they are owed under the workers’ compensation system statute, regardless of what their immigration status might be.”

Farmer offered an amendment that he said cleaned up the original version, which he indicated “unnecessarily touched on some immigration statutes.”

“It was not our intent to alter any immigration laws of the state of Florida or the United States of America with this bill,” Farmer said. “This bill, again, is simply designed to ensure that workers who are injured on the job obtain the benefits they are due.”

Despite his assurances that the bill is a glitch bill to clarify existing laws, the measure drew opposition from Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island; Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring; Sen. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, and Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City.

Committee Chairwoman Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah voted with the four Democrats on the committee to approve the bill.

There is no House version of the bill, with less than three weeks left before the scheduled March 9 end of the legislative session.

The Naples Daily News reported last year that at least 163 immigrant workers in Florida were charged with felonies for providing false identification after they were injured since 2004. In at least 159 cases, their employers or insurance companies reported them. According to the newspaper, more than 80 percent of the injured immigrants reported between 2013 and 2016 worked for employee leasing companies or staffing agencies that recruit workers

Rich Templin, legislative and political director for the Florida AFL-CIO, told the committee that other than Florida and Wyoming, every state has separated legal status from workers’ compensation and called Farmers’ bill a “first step to correcting a terrible injustice.”

Farmer’s bill was one of two workers’ compensation-related measures the Senate committee approved Tuesday. The other measure (SB 1866), filed by Broxson, received unanimous support. It would allow large employers that have workers’ compensation premiums of at least $500,000 to purchase a “guaranteed cost workers’ compensation insurance policy” at a set premium that does not change, as well as an accompanying reinsurance policy.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America opposed the bill.