A Great Falls Tribune news story said sponsor of HB 71, Representative Gordon Vance, told lawmakers the measure was only the first of many to overhaul the state’s worker’s compensation system, which has the nation’s highest premiums. “You folks will see more bills this session regarding workers’ compensation than you ever thought possible,” Vance said. The measure passed on a 61 to 39 vote and now moves to the state Senate.
According to the newspaper, critics of the measure said it does little to address high workers’ compensation premiums, but could lead to costly lawsuits against business owners who unknowingly hire undocumented workers.
The Montana Constitution protects employers who provide workers’ compensation coverage to their employees from liability if that employee is injured or killed on the job. Opponents say HB 71 would remove those protections for employers who hire illegal immigrants — either knowingly or unknowingly — and open those employers to potentially backbreaking lawsuits from an injured employee not covered by workers’ compensation.
Proponents of the bill dismissed that concern, arguing that it is the employers’ responsibility to verify that their employees are authorized to work in the United States, according to the newspaper.
Vance said his bill is a small piece of a larger puzzle to reform the workers’ compensation system. “This is not a single-issue problem. This is not a
problem that can be solved by a single bill,” Vance said, according to the newspaper. “This has multiple facets to it, and we need to address all of them.”