Workers’comp bill voted out of House

The bill would limit injuries covered by state programs.
Thursday, March 3, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:11 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — A reduction in the number of injuries covered under Missouri’s workers’ compensation law won approval from the House on Wednesday.

The measure passed 90-66 in the Republican-controlled chamber in a vote that broke mostly down party lines.

House Republicans discarded the concessions won by Senate Democrats in February and added several more measures sought by business interests.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, said he plans to work out the differences in a conference committee.

If a committee is called, five members of each chamber will meet to develop a compromise. An identical bill must pass both chambers before the governor may sign it into law.

“It has a lot of devastating words in it that could make it more difficult for the injured worker to receive just compensation,” Green said.

The legislation would tighten the definition of what qualifies for workers’ compensation. Benefits would be awarded only when a job is deemed to be the “prevailing” cause of an injury. Heart attacks at the workplace or car accidents while driving a company car would not qualify.

In addition to reducing the number of injuries that qualify for compensation, the House bill would:

  • Allow an employer to make employees use vacation or sick days to take time off for treatment.
  • Disqualify a worker fired for “post-injury misconduct” from receiving compensation.
  • Require complaints of pain 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 would reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits bogging down the courts. Opponents argue it would 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.
  • Establish 12-year terms for workers’ compensation judges, who now serve for life. It would require annual audits of their performance and increase the total number of judges to 40, who in the future would be appointed by the governor and require Senate approval before they take the bench.
Supporters say reform is necessary to fix a costly system they say is scaring businesses away from Missouri.

“I think we need to pull out the legitimately injured from those who are faking it,” Loudon said. The senator said he was not a “big fan” of term limits for judges but he was keeping an open mind going into conference committee.

Opponents argue that the bill is a handout to insurance companies that would do little to help legitimately injured workers.

“All of the stakeholders on one side of the issue have taken hold of the process,” said Rep. John Burnett, D-Jackson County.

House lawmakers moved the workers’ compensation bill from committee to a floor vote in one week. Supporters said that while they had not been directly pressured by Gov. Matt Blunt to push through a bill he has long favored, they had been getting the message.

“The governor said he was looking for real leadership,” Loudon said. “I think there is a sense he wants something on this before spring break.”

The legislature will take a 12-day recess beginning March 17.

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