JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri House of Representatives Republicans want it their way on workers’ compensation.
By introducing a substitute bill that erases compromises made in the Senate and inserting several changes desired by business interests, Republicans reasserted their control over workers’ compensation legislation at a hearing Wednesday.
Like the bill that passed the Senate two weeks ago, the House proposal would narrow what qualifies for workers’ compensation to injuries where the job is determined to be the “prevailing” cause. Left out would be those workers who aggravate a previous injury, suffer from an ailment deemed to be caused by the aging process or get in an accident while driving to work in a company car.
The House substitute removes Senate amendments that stiffen the penalties on companies who defraud workers and erases several other concessions won by Senate Democrats.
In addition to reducing the number of injuries which qualify, the House bill would:
- Allow an employer to make their employees use vacation or sick days to take time off for treatment, rehabilitation or evaluation.
- Disqualify a worker fired for “post-injury misconduct” from receiving compensation.
- Require complaints of pain to be certified as “objective” by a physician before they are admissible in court.
- Reduce the fees lawyers for injured workers can collect. Supporters say this will mean more money for the injured worker. Opponents argue it will remove the incentive for lawyers to represent poor clients.
- Force injured workers who are found to be in violation of their employer’s drug or alcohol policy at the time of their injury to forfeit the right to compensation.
- Require workers to submit written notice of their injury within 30 days or risk being disqualified.
- Establish 12-year terms for workers’ compensation judges, who now serve for life.
- Conduct annual audits of the judges’ performance and increase the total number of judges to 40. In the future, the judges would be appointed by the governor and require Senate approval before they take the bench.
The committee substitute for the Senate bill, SB 1 & 130, is sponsored by Chairman Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, and co-sponsored by more than two dozen other House Republicans, including Speaker Rod Jetton.
Supporters at the hearing said reform is necessary to fix a broken system and to make Missouri more business friendly. Detractors described the bill as a gift to big business that does little to address the system’s real problems.
Hunter said he expected to vote the legislation out of the Republican-controlled committee today. If passed, the bill could reach the House floor for debate as early as next week.