- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 8, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — The chairman of the state Workers’ Compensation Commission (WCC) yesterday said his agency was following the law last year when it oversaw nearly $1.5 million in payments to people without Social Security numbers.

“There is a policy decision that needs to be made, and it is higher than my pay level,” WCC Chairman Thomas Patrick O’Reilly said. “That is not something that the commission does. The commission simply follows the laws of the legislature.”

The Washington Times reported yesterday that Delegate Richard K. Impallaria asserted that those payments most likely were made to illegal immigrants.

The WCC paid $670,542 in fiscal 2003 and $826,482 in fiscal 2004 to 192 workers who did not have Social Security numbers, according to a Feb. 15 letter to Mr. Impallaria from the Department of Legislative Services.

“There is no state money that is paid to these employees,” Mr. O’Reilly said yesterday. “As matter of fact, the agency itself is not funded by taxpayer dollars; it’s funded by special assessment on the employers of Maryland.”

He stressed that it is not clear how many of the workers are illegal immigrants, because federal law does not mandate that Social Security numbers are obtained and state law does not bar the agency from providing benefits to illegal immigrants.

“Even though there are 192 people without Social Security numbers, that doesn’t mean that they are illegal aliens,” Mr. O’Reilly said. “They could just be people who did not provide their Social Security number.”

Kevin Enright, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, agreed.

“The state statute makes it clear that immigration status does not determine eligibility for workers’ compensation, whether an employee is covered by an insurance company is the governing factor,” he said.

The federal Department of Labor has declined comment.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, said he and his staff will be discussing the matter with the commission.

“It is a serious issue of public policy, and I want to talk to them about the evolution of it,” he said.

Mr. O’Reilly said he is open to revaluating the system.

“It certainly never hurts to look at anything,” he said. “If Governor Ehrlich wants me to do something, I am certainly willing to step up to the plate.

“But it is more complex than simply not having a Social Security number. There are some earlier concerns that we should probably have. If these folks do not have Social Security numbers, the odds are they are not paying taxes and they are being hired.”

Mr. Impallaria, Baltimore County Republican, is seeking a legislative study on the impact of illegal immigration on the state.

A Republican senator from Carroll County yesterday introduced a bill that would broaden elected officials’ freedom to pray before public meetings.

Sen. Larry E. Haines said his prayer in “Jesus’ name” before a Senate session two years ago stirred a debate on the line between church and state.

He said people should be allowed to mention the deity they serve.

His bill would widen the kinds of prayers allowed in the General Assembly and in meetings of county and city councils.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill Monday from Mr. Ehrlich that would stiffen penalties for witness intimidation.

The bill has wide, bipartisan support, but faces resistance in a House committee that killed a similar bill last year.

Delegate Joseph F. Vallario Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, opposes the so-called “hearsay exception,” which would allow witnesses who have been intimidated to accuse defendants without appearing in court.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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