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Bill would allow Mennonites to opt out of workers' comp laws

January 27, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Despite possible opposition, Sen. Alex X. Mooney is pursuing legislation to allow Mennonites to opt out of workers' compensation laws for religious reasons.

A local Mennonite group asked for the exemption, saying they shouldn't have to pay state workers' compensation insurance because it's against their beliefs to collect a claim.

"It's a matter of religious conviction. It's no secret I'm a Christian myself and you have to respect people's religious beliefs," said Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington.

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Mooney faces an uphill battle with his bill, filed Thursday, said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Donoghue is a member of the House Economic Matters Committee, which will review the legislation if it passes the Senate.

"This bill comes to my committee. I'll tell you right now it will go nowhere," he said. "Start making exemptions for people in workers' compensation and the entire system falls apart."

Mooney said he'll try anyway.

"If some people decide not to support it, then I'll have at least done what I feel was right," he said.

The Washington County and Franklin County, Pa., Mennonite Conference asked him to submit the law.

"We believe that God provides and cares for His people; thus we place our trust and confidence in God rather than depending on the security systems provided by men," according to a letter signed by conference Moderator Darrel Martin and two other church bishops.

Mennonites are conscientiously opposed to government programs as well as to receiving life or health insurance benefits. The federal government allows them to opt out of the Social Security program, they wrote.

Mooney's religious exemption would work much like one already on the books in Pennsylvania.

There, the employer fills out an application and each employee must agree to waive his or her rights based on their beliefs.

Mooney said some local Mennonites have moved to Pennsylvania, where the laws treat them more kindly.

"I'd hate to see Maryland lose such good, hard-working people," he said.

Last year, when the issue arose before the Washington County Delegation, local lawmakers declined to pursue it because it was a statewide issue.

A local farmer questioned whether the exemption would give Mennonite farmers an unfair advantage.

Local Mennonites appear to be split on the need for the legislation.

Some Mennonite business owners said they don't want to be exempt from the workers' compensation program.

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