State Senate Gears Up For Workers’ Comp Debate
By: Tim Sampson, Missouri News Horizon
Updated: February 13, 2012
(Jefferson City, MO) — A controversial package of reforms to Missouri’s workers’ compensation program is scheduled for debate on the floor of the state Senate this week.
Senate Bill 572, a priority of Republican leaders and Missouri’s business lobby, would limit the liability of co-workers in workplace injury cases and set new terms for toxic exposure cases.
Senate Majority Floor Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, said his bill would help Missouri’s employment climate by giving consistency to the rules governing workplace injury cases. Under SB 572, co-workers cannot be sued for on the job injuries unless it can be proven that their actions were purposefully done to bring harm onto another worker.
“This legislation is about providing a standard of fairness,” Dempsey said. “There’s a huge liability to coworkers right now, who don’t have insurance.”
The bill would also address how workers’ compensation deals with long-term occupational diseases. Most would be covered by workers’ comp, but the bill carves out an exception for occupational diseases that stem from exposure to toxic chemicals. Such cases would be litigated in the regular court system, since such cases usually require more investigation to prove they are the result of a work environment.
Similar legislation failed in the final hours of last year’s legislative session, mostly amid concerns over another portion of the bill related to the state’s second-injury fund. The second-injury fund is what pays workers’ compensation benefits to employees with pre-existing disabilities that are exacerbated by workplace injuries. The fund was established in Missouri and many other states around the time of World War II to encourage employers to hire injured veterans.
After lawmakers placed caps on second-injury fund contributions sever years ago, the fund has slipped into a financial crisis and faces insolvency. Some propose eliminating the fund all together in lieu of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws promoting the hiring of people with disabilities, while others say contributions from business should be increased to help fully fund it.
But this time around Dempsey has stripped the second-injury fund provisions from the bill, meaning it will not be part of this week’s debate. It will most likely be brought up as a separate bill later in the session. Senate GOP leaders hope this will allow other worker’s compensation changes to pass more easily through the legislature this year.