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Last Updated: Feb 21st, 2005 - 10:07:28 

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Workers Compensation has passed the State Senate.
By The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Feb 10, 2005, 15:56

 
 
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Feb. 10, 2005
Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry
428 East Capitol, Jefferson City, MO 65101

CONTACT:
(573) 634-3511
Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO
Kelly Gillespie, Missouri Chamber vice president of governmental affairs
Karen Buschmann, Missouri Chamber director of communications


Missouri Chamber priority – workers’ compensation reform – receives early passage in the Missouri Senate

JEFFERSON CITY (Feb. 10, 2005)  The Missouri Chamber applauded the Missouri Senate as it undertook one of the session’s most critical legislative issues – workers’ compensation reform.  Senate Bill 1, sponsored by Sen. John Loudon (R-7, Ballwin), was passed by the Missouri Senate after six hours of debate on Wednesday.  It was third read and given final approval today.

“While a well-funded Plaintiffs’ Bar has worked hard over the last years to stall improvements to Missouri’s workers’ compensation system, the Senate has broken this decade-long stronghold and has shown its commitment to send a workers’ compensation reform bill to the governor for signature this session,” said Kelly Gillespie, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 

Eleven years have passed since any substantive changes in workers’ compensation have been enacted.  Industry’s focus on safety has decreased incidents, but has not resulted in system cost savings.  In addition, a highly politicized labor commission and a decade of judicial activism from governor appointees as administrative law judges and legal advisors has eroded the balance the system was intended to uphold, Gillespie said.

Gillespie noted that the business community should recognize the efforts of bill sponsor Sen. John Loudon, Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons (R-15, Kirkwood), Sen. Jason Crowell (R-27, Cape Girardeau), Sen. Delbert Scott (R-28, Lowry City), Sen. Tim Green (D-13, St. Louis) and Sen. Victor Callahan.  “These senators worked behind the scenes in order to find a way to keep the bill advancing without the issue falling victim to unproductive bickering or stalling techniques that have been experienced with this issue in previous debates,” Gillespie said.

Senate Bill 1 is an important step to reform the problems plaguing our workers’ compensation system. The leading workers’ compensation priorities sought by the Missouri Chamber that are contained in Senate Bill 1, include:

  • Establishing a legal threshold for accident, injury, and occupational disease to more fairly determine what injuries should fall into workers’ compensation and to create a legal stopgap for abuse and fraud;
  • Reforming base law that currently liberally construes workers’ compensation law against the employer, to require an impartial review of evidence and a strict review of the law itself so that both sides of a case are treated fairly;
  • Keeping in check the power of administrative law judges – individuals responsible for ruling on workers’ compensation cases.  Over the last decade, ALJs have dramatically increased the cost of the system by broadening the intent of the law.  Specifically, this legislation will block ALJs ability to reopen cases to increase agreed-to settlements, a practice that had become more and more common over the last decade; and
  • Abrogating three court case holdings that broadly expand which injuries are compensable.  This rejection by the Senate of the positional risk theory - that if you have any attachment to the workforce, the employee is covered - sends a very strong signal to the administrative law judges to follow the law as written.

Recent statistics regarding Missouri’s benefit growth demonstrate the need for workers’ compensation reform.  According to the Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation Research Bulletin, between 1998 and 2002, Missouri’s total benefit cost per covered employee increase of 48.5 percent put Missouri third highest in the nation.

Also according to this group from 1992 to 2002, the total indemnity and medical benefit payments increased 75.7 percent putting us sixth worst in the nation for benefit growth.  In fact, Missouri is one of just 13 states that paid out more than a billion in workers’ compensation benefits.

The Plaintiffs’ Bar has much to lose in the reforms that are contained in this bill.  The Plaintiffs’ Bar will be a vocal opponent.  However, Gillespie says that lawmakers listened to those who deal with Missouri’s current broken system day in and day out – Missouri employers and employees – rather than the workers’ compensation plaintiffs’ attorneys.

“For those who think that these reforms are not needed, visit any Missouri manufacturer – large or small – and ask how Missouri’s workers’ compensation system serves their business.  You will hear first hand how seriously Missouri’s broken workers’ compensation system is costing our state in lost jobs and productivity,” said Gillespie.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry (www.mochamber.org) was founded in 1923 and is the largest business association in Missouri, representing almost 3,000 employers providing more than 425,000 jobs for Missourians.

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