There's a scene in the M. Night Shyamalan thriller "The Sixth Sense" when the scared little boy at the center of the film finally admits in a whisper to his therapist, "I see dead people."
All of a sudden, the movie comes into focus, and (spoiler alert) you realize that much of what you thought you saw was a mirage, like the therapist himself, who actually is dead.
This fantasy is helpful in trying to understand the inner workings of the Missouri Legislature. Think of a little boy — maybe he looks a little like a young Mitt Romney — who mouths the words: "I like being able to fire people."
This week, the Missouri Senate fast-tracked two pieces of legislation backed by the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and the Republicans who control the House and Senate. They call them "jobs bills."
That is a mirage.
The bills, says the chamber, are necessary to improve the state's business climate and, thus, magically produce new jobs.
One, sponsored by Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, is much like a bill Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, wisely vetoed last year. This proposal should be called the "Make It Easier To Fire People Act" because that's precisely what it does.
If you don't care about employees having reasonable legal recourse for sexual harassment, racial discrimination or whistle-blower retaliation, then maybe it might "improve" the state's business environment.
Mr. Lager practically puts himself on a pedestal with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. when suggesting his proposal is all about protecting "civil rights."
This, too, is a fantasy. All the state's major civil rights groups oppose it.
But the business community likes this bill. It would be saving some businesses money by capping jury awards, raising the burden of proof on seeking whistle-blower protection and encouraging judges to toss cases before they reach juries.
The other "jobs bill," sponsored by Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, seeks to fix mistakes made by the legislature in 2005 when Republicans sought to reduce workers' compensation costs and once again "improve the business environment."
All that "improving" actually bankrupted the Second Injury Fund, which aids workers who aggravate a previous disability while protecting employers from having to pay for injuries that they didn't cause. The 2005 changes also altered how the courts handle occupational diseases, tossing those cases to civil courts and raising potential employer liability.
Lawmakers should fix these mistakes, but their over-the-top proposals of the last few years actually would make the legal environment worse and do little to fix the immediate problem, which is that 170 Missouri workers have won legal judgments totalling $13.5 million, but the state doesn't have the money to pay them.
Two nonpartisan actuarial studies have pointed to a simple solution: revert to the 2005 law, which would save the Second Injury Fund. The facts, however, are trumped by the Republicans' fantasies.
Three powerful forces in the Missouri Capitol — business groups, trial lawyers and labor unions — have been trying unsuccessfully for a couple of years to find workable compromises to these complex issues to protect employers and employees.
The problem isn't that reasonable solutions can't be found, it's that competing special interests wander into the Capitol with blinders on. They don't see dead people. They just don't see reality.
Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.