JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri employers are looking forward to seeing lawmakers pass legislation they have supported in the past but seen Democratic Gov. Bob Holden veto, according to one of the state’s top business leaders.
“We are very confident that we will be successful in getting something through the General Assembly this year, and now we have a governor in Matt Blunt who will sign it into law,” said Dan Mehan, president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Mehan said bills that would limit awards in liability lawsuits and restructure the way the state handles workers compensation will be among the first issues addressed when the legislative session begins Jan. 5. Both are issues the Republican governor-elect said during his campaign that he would push.
Mehan said that in each of the past two years, the General Assembly passed what he described as “decent” bills limiting non-economic awards in liability suits, only to have Holden reject them. The bills also would have prohibited lawyers from “venue shopping” for sympathetic juries.
Although the measures covered all types of liability lawsuits, proponents have focused their arguments on the need for reform in medical malpractice suits. In vetoing the bills, Holden indicated he might have signed them had they been limited to malpractice.
Mehan said doctors are leaving Missouri because malpractice laws make it difficult to practice here. The Missouri State Board of Registration for the Healing Arts reports that the increase in the number of doctors practicing in Missouri trails the rate of population growth.
The number of doctors practicing in Missouri rose 1.7 percent, from 19,500 in 1994 to 19,826 this year, according to board statistics. Meanwhile, the state’s population grew 16 percent between1990 and 2000.
The board also reported in April that the state had 266 fewer physicians than it did a year earlier.
“I think everybody understands that (the problem) has gotten worse since April,” said Tom Holloway, a lobbyist for the Missouri State Medical Association. Tort reform, he said, “would stop the bleeding.”
Regarding workers compensation, Mehan said employers would like to “tighten up” the definition of a compensable injury and to rewrite the workers compensation law. Missouri judges are supposed to use a “liberal standard of review” when ruling on workers compensation cases. Mehan, however, believes the law should require judges to use an “impartial” standard. That’s a change Republicans have tried to pass before.
“We think we are in the best position we’ve been in for years,” Mehan said of Blunt’s election and Republican dominance of the legislature.
Labor representatives, however, have an opposing view.
“Historically we haven’t had a good rapport with Republicans,” said Hugh McVey, president of the AFL-CIO. “The ball is in their court now. We hope we can work with the Republicans we endorsed. We hope we can work with the governor on issues we can agree on like education and a lot of the things like that that are important to all of us, working families included.”
Mehan said he will also seek more money for worker training and a restructuring of the foundation formula for funding public schools. Employers, he said, were hit “exceptionally hard with tax increases” when the formula was set in 1993.