Associated Industries Promoting Work Comp Reform in Senate

February 6 – AIM President/CEO Ray McCarty and our team of lobbyists has been busy working on several key issues for employers this week.

Topping the list is Senate Bill 1, a bill that would reform the Second Injury Fund (SIF) and ensure occupational diseases are covered under the workers’ compensation law.  Senator Scott Rupp filed the bill, representing a broad package of reforms and modest funding increases that have been endorsed by AIM and every other significant employer group.

“Some senators, obviously influenced by plaintiffs’ attorneys, are engaging in delay tactics as the Missouri Senate considers this legislation that is so important to all Missouri employers,” said McCarty. “Employers are willing to pay a little more for the Second Injury Fund in exchange for limiting the types of claims that are eligible for payment from the Fund and including occupational diseases within the Workers’ Compensation Law where it belongs.  We hope the plaintiffs’ attorneys think about the positive impact this bill could have on their clients, rather than delaying the solution.  But make no mistake – employers will not support a blank check made payable to the trial bar”, McCarty continued.

Amendments have been proposed that would have temporarily increased the SIF surcharge to 7% and others that would have permanently raised the surcharge cap to 4.5%.  AIM and other business groups stood firm against these proposals.  The current SIF surcharge is capped at 3% of the amount of workers’ compensation premiums.

The bill will be debated further this week.  Stay tuned and also be sure to participate in AIM’s Monday Morning Legislative Webinar for the most current information on this and other issues of importance to Missouri employers.  If you are not registered for the webinar, please contact Nathan Dampf in our office at 573-634-2246.

Business Priorities Still Alive – Two Weeks Remain in 2012 Legislative Session

With two weeks remaining in the 2012 Legislative Session, important business priorities remain unresolved.

Two bills that would address issues with worker’s compensation (preventing employees from suing each other in workplace accident situations, and continuing to provide coverage for occupational diseases within the worker’s compensation system) are pending in the Missouri Senate.  HB 1403 addresses both of these issues while HB 1540 would only fix the co-employee lawsuit issue.  HB 1403 was approved by the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and Fiscal Oversight, but the Chairman, Senator Chuck Purgason, did not immediately report the bill to the full Senate (as is usually the case).  Purgason, and other senators, have wanted to have a thorough revision of the tax credit structure in Missouri for several years.  While Governor Jay Nixon has sent a letter stating he wants to work with employers to address these issues, his proposal for addressing occupational diseases from exposure to toxic substances is extremely unreasonable and would be harmful to employers.  The Governor’s proposal that he would be willing to sign: more than $162,813 paid annually to the employee for life, guaranteed for at least 300 weeks (a total of at least $939,306) plus continuing benefits for an employee’s spouse or children, and the payments would not be suspended if the employee is able to work (as is the case with other permanent total disability claims).  That position is not unexpected when you realize that trial attorneys, a group that strongly supports Governor Nixon, are making lots of money suing employers and would continue to make a lot of money under Governor Nixon’s proposal.  You may recall Governor Nixon vetoed legislation earlier this session that would have addressed both worker’s compensation issues because the amount that would be paid for occupational diseases was not enough, in his opinion.  The bill that only prohibits lawsuits against fellow employees in work comp accidents has been scheduled for hearing in the Senate on Tuesday.

HB 2099, legislation that would require employees claiming “whistle blower” protection to have alerted authorities to an act of the employer that is truly illegal, in violation of a regulation or in violation of public policy, has been scheduled for hearing on Tuesday also.  Governor Nixon previously vetoed these provisions when presented in a larger bill that aligned Missouri’s discrimination laws with federal laws in effect today.  The Governor, and many media reports, have inaccurately portrayed that legislation as “rolling back” discrimination laws to the 1960’s, but in fact, that legislation would have simply aligned Missouri’s human rights law with today’s federal human rights laws – the standard used in most states.  The whistle blower bill does NOT contain these changes to the discrimination laws, but the Governor has not yet indicated whether he will sign or veto the whistle blower bill.

The Missouri House this week passed HB 1639, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nolte, that would reduce the tax liability of EVERY Missouri business by 50% over five years, if income tax revenues continue to grow.  It is our sincere belief (and that of former presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan) that reducing the income tax burden on all businesses will cause an increase in income tax revenues as those former tax payments are used by job creators to hire and promote employees.  The bill also contains amnesty provisions, enhanced procedures for collection of taxes and refunds to taxpayers, and clarifications of the 2007 law that exempted manufacturing inputs from sales taxes.  The Missouri Senate briefly debated similar legislation but that legislation has been tabled in the Senate, at least temporarily.

Members of Associated Industries of Missouri are invited to attend our weekly legislative update webinar on Monday mornings at 10:00 a.m.  These webinars, over the next two weeks will provide you with up-to-date information on the status of these and other bills of interest to employers.  If you are a member and would like to register for the legislative webinar, please contact the AIM office at 573-634-2246.  If you are a Missouri employer that is not yet a member of AIM, we believe you would benefit from membership in the state’s oldest general business association – please contact us today.

Busy Week in Missouri’s Capitol With 3 Weeks Left

April 27 – The legislature has just three weeks to resolve differences and pass several important issues.  And while the clock continues to “tick”, progress was made on several fronts this week.

The Missouri Senate passed their version of the 2013 state budget, following lengthy filibusters and unusual recesses that allowed senators to rewrite certain parts of the budget (click here for more details).  The budget has been reported to the Missouri House.  The House could simply pass the Senate versions of the bills, although I don’t believe this has happened in recent memory.  More likely, the House and Senate will appoint “conference committees” to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the budget bills.  Some items that were funded exactly the same in both budgets are normally excluded from future changes, although these items may be changed by special motions made in both chambers.  The budget must be approved by May 11.

The Missouri House this week passed HB 1403, a bill that would address two issues in worker’s compensation and reform the Second Injury Fund.  The bill may be used as a vehicle for compromise legislation we are developing now on all three issues.  Associated Industries of Missouri is joining other business advocacy groups in a united effort to negotiate a compromise with trial attorneys, organized labor and Governor Jay Nixon’s office.  “Employees and employers benefit from the no-fault worker’s compensation system,” said Ray McCarty, president of Associated Industries of Missouri.  “Beginning in 1919, Associated Industries engaged labor and trial attorneys in negotiations that led to passage of Missouri’s first worker’s compensation law in 1925.  Recently, the worker’s compensation system in Missouri has been turned on its ear by lawsuits,” McCarty continued.

Occupational diseases have always been covered by worker’s compensation insurance – that is until trial attorneys got involved.  These trial attorneys victimized employers with multimillion dollar lawsuits in civil court by claiming the 2005 revision of the worker’s compensation law was not meant to cover occupational diseases.  Trial attorneys have also been filing lawsuits against fellow employees on behalf of employees injured in workplace accidents.  At the same time, the trial attorneys have expanded coverage of lifestyle conditions and non-work related injuries that cause more to be paid from the state’s bankrupt Second Injury Fund.  The Missouri legislature passed bills earlier this session that would have corrected two of these issues (co-employee liability and occupational diseases) and Governor Nixon promptly vetoed the legislation.

The bill was also heard and approved by the Senate Committee on Small Business and Insurance, after removing the Second Injury Fund provisions.  The bill is on the Senate calendar, awaiting full Senate debate.

Governor Nixon also vetoed employer supported legislation that would have updated Missouri’s law to comply with federal standards currently in place for workplace discrimination claims.  The House this week passed a bill that addresses one part of this legislation: a law that would provide protection for whistleblowers that are notifying authorities of actual wrongdoing by their employer.  Associated Industries of Missouri continues to work hard to pass this legislation and hope Governor Nixon will sign the bill if we are successful in getting it to his desk.  Amendments added in the House would apply the new whistleblower protections to all employers except state and local government.

Both the House and Senate will soon begin wo work on bills that originated in the other chamber.  The 2012 regular legislative session ends at 6:00 p.m. on May 18.

Senate Worker’s Compensation Reform Bill Clears House Committee

February 27 – The House Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee, chaired by Rep. Barney Fisher, held a hearing and approved the Senate’s version of our worker’s compensation bill today by a vote of 8-4.

The bill, SB 572, sponsored by Senate Majority Floor Leader Tom Dempsey, was supported by every major employer group and was opposed by only the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys and the AFL-CIO.  The bill would prevent workers from suing each other in workplace accidents and provide coverage for occupational diseases within the worker’s compensation system.

Correcting previous judicial rulings to the contrary, the bill would make it clear that workers that acquire occupational diseases – those that evolve over a long period of time – would be entitled to quick medical care and compensation for lost work time.  Opponents object because employers currently are liable to the employees for large judgments when the employee is able to prove negligence on behalf of the employer.  But much more often, we believe workers would much rather have quick access to medical care and payment for claims without having to prove fault on the part of the employer.

This system has worked well until courts recently ruled occupational diseases were not specifically mentioned as compensable “injuries” in the worker’s compensation law and, as a result, cases could proceed in civil court.  One trial attorney witness agreed the result of the bill was to restore this protectiogn for workers within the worker’s compensation system.  But trial attorneys at the hearing want to exclude toxic exposure cases from the work comp system and continue to allow civil lawsuits in those cases.  While such cases usually result in large settlements for their clients, and fat paychecks for the attorneys, civil action takes much longer and requires a higher burden of proof that the employer is guilty of negligence in causing the condition.  Workers that are not able to prove their employers were negligent are not entitled to any compensation or medical services.  Restoring the treatment of occupational diseases (including repetitive motion disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome) to be within the work comp system where they have always been, is the best choice for employees and employers.

The vote was along straight party lines, with Republican committee members supporting the bill and Democrat committee members opposing the bill.  The bill will now be referred to the House Rules Committee, then on to the House floor for debate.