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Busy Week in Missouri’s Capitol With 3 Weeks Left

April 27 – The legislature has just three weeks to resolve differences and pass several important issues.  And while the clock continues to “tick”, progress was made on several fronts this week.

The Missouri Senate passed their version of the 2013 state budget, following lengthy filibusters and unusual recesses that allowed senators to rewrite certain parts of the budget (click here for more details).  The budget has been reported to the Missouri House.  The House could simply pass the Senate versions of the bills, although I don’t believe this has happened in recent memory.  More likely, the House and Senate will appoint “conference committees” to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget bills.  Some items that were funded exactly the same in both budgets are normally excluded from future changes, although these items may be changed by special motions made in both chambers.  The budget must be approved by May 11.

The Missouri House this week passed HB 1403, a bill that would address two issues in worker’s compensation and reform the Second Injury Fund.  The bill may be used as a vehicle for compromise legislation we are developing now on all three issues.  Associated Industries of Missouri is joining other business advocacy groups in a united effort to negotiate a compromise with trial attorneys, organized labor and Governor Jay Nixon’s office.  “Employees and employers benefit from the no-fault worker’s compensation system,” said Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri.  “Beginning in 1919, Associated Industries engaged labor and trial attorneys in negotiations that led to passage of Missouri’s first worker’s compensation law in 1925.  Recently, the worker’s compensation system in Missouri has been turned on its ear by lawsuits,” McCarty continued.

Occupational diseases have always been covered by worker’s compensation insurance – that is until trial attorneys got involved.  These trial attorneys victimized employers with multimillion dollar lawsuits in civil court by claiming the 2005 revision of the worker’s compensation law was not meant to cover occupational diseases.  Trial attorneys have also been filing lawsuits against fellow employees on behalf of employees injured in workplace accidents.  At the same time, the trial attorneys have expanded coverage of lifestyle conditions and non-work related injuries that cause more to be paid from the state’s bankrupt Second Injury Fund.  The Missouri legislature passed bills earlier this session that would have corrected two of these issues (co-employee liability and occupational diseases) and Governor Nixon promptly vetoed the legislation.

The bill was also heard and approved by the Senate Committee on Small Business and Insurance, after removing the Second Injury Fund provisions.  The bill is on the Senate calendar, awaiting full Senate debate.

Governor Nixon also vetoed employer supported legislation that would have updated Missouri’s law to comply with federal standards currently in place for workplace discrimination claims.  The House this week passed a bill that addresses one part of this legislation: a law that would provide protection for whistleblowers that are notifying authorities of actual wrongdoing by their employer.  Associated Industries of Missouri continues to work hard to pass this legislation and hope Governor Nixon will sign the bill if we are successful in getting it to his desk.  Amendments added in the House would apply the new whistleblower protections to all employers except state and local government.

Both the House and Senate will soon begin wo work on bills that originated in the other chamber.  The 2012 regular legislative session ends at 6:00 p.m. on May 18.

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