JEFFERSON CITY — The narrowing of injuries covered under Missouri’s workers’ compensation law won first-round approval Wednesday night.
After two sessions and more than five-and-a-half hours of debate, the bill was approved by a voice vote of the Missouri Senate.
The legislation would tighten the definition of what qualifies as a compensable injury. Only those injuries where the job is deemed to be the “prevailing” cause would earn benefits. Heart attacks at the workplace or car accidents that occur while driving a company car would not qualify.
The approval marked the end of two days of intense negotiation. The bill will now be printed and submitted for formal approval in a roll-call vote. After that it will move to the Missouri House of Representatives.
While the bill’s fundamentals remain unchanged, several notable amendments were approved. They include:
- Erasing a passage that would have removed the financial incen-tive for lawyers to represent employees in lawsuits against their bosses. Employees often cannot afford an attorney. Without a reward for winning cases, lawyers would have no financial incentive to represent poor clients.
- Solidifying penalties against insurance companies and employers that fail or refuse to abide by the law.
- Requiring that workers’ com-pensation regulations be posted at a “conspicuous” location in the work-place.
Critics of the bill say it still does not address major problems in the system. One problem left unfixed, said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, was that injured workers are waiting too long for their settlements. Many are forced to go on unemployment to pay the bills, which jeopardizes their settlement, he said.
“The injured worker wants to go back to work,” Green said. “They are being neglected.”
Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, sponsored the bill, which is titled SB1. Republicans in the capital, including Gov. Matt Blunt, claim changes are necessary to make Missouri more business-friendly.
After the vote, several senators went out of their way to commend what they saw as an example of positive cooperation between the two parties.
“There are things in this bill that are still problematic,” said Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County. “But this is an example of the Senate working as it should work.”