Blunt signs bills on varying issues

Thursday, June 26, 2008 | 5:42 p.m. CDT; updated 10:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri employers: Make your workers get a traceable microchip implant at your own peril. Now it could cost you a thousand big ones. But if you happen to run a gun range, rest easy; noise and nuisance complaints can’t be filed by angry neighbors.

Gov. Matt Blunt was signing legislation Thursday making it a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in jail for an employer to require workers to get a microchip implant.

He also was signing bills extending lawsuit protections for gun ranges and increasing court fees to give some deputy sheriffs a pay raise. Another measure overturns a Missouri Supreme Court ruling holding that family members of an injured worker who dies from a cause unrelated to the work injury are entitled to payments from the Second Injury Fund.

Blunt was making stops to publicize the legislation Thursday in Excelsior Springs, Boonville, Park Hills and Springfield.

California, North Dakota and Wisconsin already have prohibitions on mandatory microchip implants. Last fall, The Associated Press identified a series of studies linking chip implants to tumors in some lab mice and rats. Cancer specialists asked to review that data said they would not allow family members to receive implants and called for more research before widely implanting them in people.

The gun legislation wouldn’t allow civil or criminal complaints of noise or nuisance violations stemming from the normal operation of a gun range. Bill supporters have accused gun critics of filing lawsuits against firing ranges in an attempt to force them to close.

Blunt also was signing legislation that would add $10 to the fee sheriffs’ departments can charge for serving summons, subpoenas and other court documents. That money then would be distributed across the state by a sheriffs’ group to help supplement deputy sheriffs’ pay.

Mick Covington, the executive director of the Missouri Sheriffs’ Association, has said the plan is to raise all deputy sheriffs’ pay to at least $25,000 per year.

The state’s Second Injury Fund is projected to run out of money sometime next year. It is used for work-related injuries for military veterans and other people already injured once before on the job.

Political jockeying over the pending insolvency had slowed the legislature’s response to the state Supreme Court’s decision in 2007 that family members of injured workers could in certain instances be entitled to the state benefits.

Some lawmakers wanted to simply overturn the state high court’s ruling, while others saw it as an opportunity to change or eliminate the Second Injury Fund. The bill eventually was pared down to just overruling the high court.

Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Dan Mehan said in a written statement that the Second Injury Fund ruling has been the biggest issue facing the state’s employers for the past two legislative sessions.

“The state’s workers’ compensation system was never set up to be used as a life insurance policy, and Missouri businesses were in no way prepared to pay the potential huge increases to keep the fund afloat,” Mehan said.

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