Update: Contact Ohio Committee considering harmful absolute immunity bill
OCSEA speaks out against absolute immunity bill; Pro-business Buckeye Institute supports employee liability and more
The Ohio Senate Judiciary Committee has held a second hearing on House Bill 606, harmful legislation that gives state agencies absolute immunity from civil lawsuits when it fails to protect employees during the COVID-19 crisis. As the General Assembly prepares for recess, members are still encouraged to contact the Ohio Senate.
The union submitted testimony opposing the bill saying it could have damaging consequences for state employees on the front lines.
But the Buckeye Institute, the anti-union think-tank that keeps trying to get OCSEA members to drop their union, offered proponent testimony agreeing that state agencies should have absolute immunity from civil lawsuits during the pandemic. Even worse, the group opposes the use of Worker's Compensation for state employees who contract COVID on the job. Their testimony urged the Committee to "reject any presumption that workers contracted COVID-19 in the course of their employment for the purposes of workers' compensation claims" and advised against significant changes to workers' compensation that would benefit front line workers.
In contrast, OCSEA Pres. Chris Mabe wrote in testimony that "some of the provisions of this bill will make State essential workers less safe and legally liable for litigation even in cases where they have conducted official State business and committed no wrong."
Mabe says HB 606 is impractical because it will make staffing Ohio's correctional facilities even more dangerous, thankless, and untenable. "This crisis has called for courage and sacrifice from Ohio’s frontline workers, and they have answered that call," he said, "Now under HB 606, officers will have no sane reason to expose themselves and their families to COVID19, while also carrying a new legal burden mandated by the State."
"Our members have sacrificed their lives while serving the citizens of Ohio. What has Buckeye Institute ever sacrificed?" asks Mabe. "It's obvious that this big-money, anti-public employee policy influencer could care less about essential public workers, their benefits, their jobs, or their health & safety."
CALL members of the Senate Judicial Committee. Tell them to stop HB 606.
Tell them HB 606 could have damaging consequences for state employees on the front lines and that you are a state employee who could be impacted. HB 606 leaves employees "legally liable" for litigation even when conducting state duties and having committed no wrong. It also gives state agencies a free pass during the COVID-19 the crisis, and, basically, disincentivizes agencies from keeping employees safe.
Contact the members of the Senate Judicial Committee NOW!
Senator John Eklund (Chair) - D18 (R) 614-644-7718 (Statehouse)
Senator Nathan Manning (Vice Chair) D13 (R) 614-644-7613 (Statehouse)
Senator William P. Coley D4 (R) 614-466-8072 (Statehouse)
Senator Theresa Charters Gavarone D2 (R) 614-466-8060 (Statehouse)
Senator Matt Huffman D12 (R) 614-466-7584 (Statehouse)
Senator Peggy Lehner D6 (R) 614-466-4538 (Statehouse)
Senator Robert McColley D1 (R) 614-466-8150 (Statehouse)
Senator Cecil Thomas (Ranking Minority) D9 (D) 614-466-5980 (Statehouse)
Senator Teresa Fedor D11 (D) 614-466-5204 (Statehouse)
Senator Sean J. O'Brien D32 (D) 614-466-7182 (Statehouse)
Ohio legislation gives state agencies further immunity
A bill that would give state agencies absolute immunity from civil law suits when it fails to protect employees during the COVID crisis is zipping through the state legislature and could have damaging consequences for state employees on the front lines. House Bill 606 appears to give state agencies a free pass during the COVID-19 crisis when it fails to protect employees and basically disincentivizes agencies from keeping employees safe.
It also appears to take away immunity from employees, leaving them “legally liable for litigation even in cases where they have conducted official State business and committed no wrong.” The bill overall is unfair and heavily weighed in favor or agencies and employers and against workers, both public and private.
HB 606 passed the House of Representatives in a matter of weeks and will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee when the Senate resumes session, TBD at this time. OCSEA has prepared testimony in protection of Ohio's public employees and will be submitting testimony to the Senate when they return.
According to OCSEA’s testimony on the bill:
“….sections 9.87 and 2743.02 preclude legal relief for any State employee who is clearly endangered and harmed by their employer’s unwillingness to enact basic standards of safety against COVID19 transmission, even in cases of clear negligence. In fact, we fear the provisions of this bill go so far as to prevent relief for any employee who suffers retaliation from the employer in cases where the employee highlights unsafe conditions for staff or citizens of the State to which the State has a statutorily defined public duty. This creates a moral hazard wherein the State has no incentive to appropriately prioritize the safety of employees or the public because it can suffer no consequences. This is the opposite of transparency and accountability.”
These provisions are both unconscionable and impractical. Dozens of staff have fallen ill with the virus and exposed their own families. Some have lost their lives because they continued to punch the clock and do the work Ohio needed them to do. By taking this action, the State is obfuscating its legal and moral responsibility and as a result harming the essential, frontline workers who have been at the forefront of this crisis for months.
Ohio already has a recruitment problem when it comes to Corrections Officers and direct care staff, especially during this pandemic. If agencies are not held accountable when they fail to protect their employees, this problem will become exponentially worse.