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Missouri workplace discrimination bill blocked in state Senate

Monday, January 23, 2012 | 10:14 p.m. CST; updated 1:28 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 24, 2012

JEFFERSON CITY — A Democrat-led debate kept the state Senate from voting Monday on a bill that would limit protections for employees who file discrimination complaints.

The legislation would limit the protection employees receive after filing a discrimination complaint by placing a cap on punitive damages. The bill would require illegal discrimination to be a motivating factor, instead of a contributing one, for termination of employment. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said he is trying to codify public statute on discrimination law and put responsibility for the law back into legislative hands.

"Policy is decided by the legislative branch, not by the courts," Lager said.

Lager proposed a similar bill during the last legislative session, which passed easily in both the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon.

"If we are really serious about growing jobs in the state then we have to change the environment we are in," Lager said. "Just because you ignore the problem, doesn't mean it goes away."

Despite its relatively quick passage through committee, the bill faced opposition from Democrats concerned about the effect of limiting damages. Minority Floor Leader Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, called the refiling of the bill a "dumb act" since it was already vetoed during the last session.

Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he spoke with the governor, who he said hasn't ruled out compromising on the bill. Mayer said the Senate will continue discussion on the proposal during its session Tuesday morning.

Earlier in the day, the House Workforce Committee passed the lower chamber's version of the legislation with a party line vote, with all Democrats present voting against. The House bill awaits a vote in the House Rules Committee before going to the House floor.


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