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Mo. lawmakers pass changes to workers’ comp claims

By DAVID A. LIEB

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a measure that would double the fees charged to businesses in order to replenish an insolvent fund for disabled workers who suffer serious job-related injuries or illnesses.

If Gov. Jay Nixon signs the legislation, payments could start flowing next year to more than 1,200 injured workers whose benefits have been delayed because of the financial shortfall. The measure also could clear the way for the attorney general’s office to start settling a backlog of more than 30,000 pending claims against the disability fund.

In addition to recapitalizing the Second Injury Fund, the legislation would change the way people suffering from job-related illnesses receive compensation by shifting most of those claims from the courts back to the administrative procedures of the workers’ compensation system.

The House voted 135-23 Thursday to send the bill to the governor. The Senate passed it 33-1 a day earlier. Nixon has not announced whether he will sign the bill, though legislators involved in negotiating the bill have said he intends to do so.

The legislation represents a compromise among House and Senate members who had previously passed different versions of the bill and among the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys and the Missouri Chamber Commerce and Industry, which represent the differing interests of injured workers and their employers. House Speaker Tim Jones declared it “one of the crowning successes of the legislative session” that ends Friday.

“We are taking on and trying to offer a solution to a problem that is tens of millions of dollars in the hole to businesses and taxpayers of the state that accumulates exponential interest every single day,” said Jones, R-Eureka.

The Second Injury Fund is financed by businesses through a surcharge on their workers’ compensation insurance premiums that was capped at 3 percent under the 2005 law, instead of being allowed to fluctuate based on the fund’s annual expenses. Partly as a result of that cap, the fund now has a deficit.

Although it has a balance of $9.3 million, the fund owes more than $32 million in initial payments to people, not counting the interest that has been accruing, according the attorney general’s office. Because of the cash-flow problems, the attorney general has delayed payments to 1,262 people awarded benefits since November 2011. There are an additional 30,630 claims pending against the fund.

The legislation would allow state Division of Workers’ Compensation to raise that surcharge to 6 percent, beginning in 2014 and continuing through 2021. It also would limit the fund’s future coverage to only the most serious work-related disabilities and pare back the interest rates paid on judgments.

Another aspect of the legislation seeks to reverse the way courts have interpreted a 2005 law that revised the workers’ compensation system. That law made it harder for employees to prove that an injury was work-related and required its provisions to be strictly interpreted. As a result, judges have ruled that occupational diseases no longer are covered under the definition of “accident,” and thus aren’t required to be handled through Missouri’s workers’ compensation system. That has raised concerns among businesses groups that employers could get hit with costly lawsuits for work-related illnesses.

The state Chamber of Commerce has said Missouri currently is the only state in which the workers’ compensation system is not the exclusive remedy for occupational diseases.

The legislation would again place most job-related illnesses under the umbrella of the workers’ compensation system and provide an enhanced benefit for toxic-exposure illnesses. For cases involving an asbestos-related cancer called mesothelioma, employers could chose coverage through the workers’ compensation system or a special risk pool — both of which would pay an enhanced benefit of $500,000 — or they could take their chances in court.

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel opposed the cap on mesothelioma benefits paid through the workers’ compensation system. He has said previously that has grandfather died of asbestos poisoning.

“I don’t believe that when someone is suffering, that someone is dying a slow painful death, (that they) should have a price tag put on their life,” said Hummel, D-St. Louis. “I think that needs to be done in the courts, where juries can look at the human factor, where they can decide what pain and suffering these families have endured.”

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Workers’ compensation bill is SB1.

Online:

Legislature: http://www.moga.mo.gov

Mo. House roll call on workers’ compensation bill

By The Associated Press

The Missouri House voted 135-23 Thursday to give final approval to legislation that would replenish a fund for disabled workers and change the way people are compensated for job-related illnesses.

Voting yes were 109 Republicans and 26 Democrats.

Voting no were 23 Democrats.

Not voting were one Republican and four Democrats.

REPUBLICANS VOTING YES

Sue Allen, Town and Country

Mike Cierpiot, Lee’s Summit

Sonya Anderson, Springfield

Kevin Austin, Springfield

Kurt Bahr, O’Fallon

Jay Barnes, Jefferson City

Mike Bernskoetter, Jefferson City

T.J. Berry, Kearney

Rick Brattin, Harrisonville

Wanda Brown, Lincoln

Eric Burlison, Springfield

Kathie Conway, St. Charles

Steve Cookson, Poplar Bluff

Robert Cornejo, St. Peters

Stanley Cox, Sedalia

Sandy Crawford, Buffalo

Gary Cross, Lee’s Summit

Paul Curtman, Pacific

Charlie Davis, Webb City

John Diehl, Town and Country

Dean Dohrman, La Monte

Tony Dugger, Hartville

Kevin Elmer, Nixa

Kevin Engler, Farmington

Sue Entlicher, Bolivar

Scott Fitzpatrick, Shell Knob

Paul Fitzwater, Potosi

Tom Flanigan, Carthage

Dennis Fowler, Advance

Lyndall Fraker, Marshfield

Diane Franklin, Camdenton

Keith Frederick, Rolla

Doug Funderburk, St. Peters

Elaine Gannon, De Soto

Chuck Gatschenberger, Lake St. Louis

Don Gosen, Chesterfield

Casey Guernsey, Bethany

Elijah Haahr, Springfield

Marsha Haefner, St. Louis

Kent Hampton, Malden

Jim Hansen, Frankford

Ron Hicks, St. Peters

Galen Higdon, St. Joseph

Dave Hinson, St. Clair

Denny Hoskins, Warrensburg

Lincoln Hough, Springfield

Jay Houghton, Martinsburg

Thomas Hurst, Meta

Delus Johnson, St. Joseph

Caleb Jones, California

Tim Jones, Eureka

Jeffery Justus, Branson

Shelley Keeney, Marble Hill

Mike Kelley, Lamar

Andrew Koenig, Manchester

Glen Kolkmeyer, Wellington

Bart Korman, High Hill

Mike Lair, Chillicothe

Bill Lant, Joplin

Jeanie Lauer, Blue Springs

Mike Leara, St. Louis

Donna Lichtenegger, Jackson

Warren Love, Osceola

Steve Lynch, Waynesville

Nick Marshall, Parkville

John McCaherty, High Ridge

Joe Don McGaugh, Carrollton

Jeffrey Messenger, Republic

Rocky Miller, Tuscumbia

Chris Molendorp, Belton

Mike Moon, Ash Grove

Lynn Morris, Nixa

Dave Muntzel, Boonville

Jim Neely, Cameron

Myron Neth, Liberty

Mark Parkinson, St. Charles

Donna Pfautsch, Harrisonville

Don Phillips, Kimberling City

Randy Pike, Adrian

Jeff Pogue, Salem

Craig Redmon, Canton

Holly Rehder, Sikeston

Bill Rieboldt, Neosho

Tim Remole, Excello

Shawn Rhoads, West Plains

Todd Richardson, Poplar Bluff

Jeanie Riddle, Mokane

Robert Ross, Yukon

Caleb Rowden, Columbia

Lyle Rowland, Cedarcreek

Dwight Scharnhorst, St. Louis

Dave Schatz, Sullivan

Ron Schieber, Kansas City

Noel Shull, Kansas City

Lindell Shumake, Hannibal

Jason Smith, Salem

Sheila Solon, Blue Springs

Chrissy Sommer, St. Charles

Bryan Spencer, Wentzville

Rick Stream, Kirkwood

Kathy Swan, Cape Girardeau

Mike Thomson, Maryville

Noel Torpey, Independence

Nathan Walker, Kirksville

Bill White, Joplin

Paul Wieland, Imperial

Kenneth Wilson, Smithville

David Wood, Versailles

Anne Zerr, St. Charles

DEMOCRATS VOTING YES

Ira Anders, Independence

Michael Butler, St. Louis

Jon Carpenter, Kansas City

Mike Colona, St. Louis

Linda Black, Desloge

Pat Conway, St. Joseph

Keith English, Florissant

Vicki Englund, St. Louis

Ben Harris, Hillsboro

Chris Kelly, Columbia

Jeanne Kirkton, Webster Groves

Michele Kratky, St. Louis

Jeremy LaFaver, Kansas City

John Mayfield, Independence

TJ McKenna, Festus

Kevin McManus, Kansas City

Margo McNeil, Florissant

Sue Meredith, St. Louis

Gina Mitten, St. Louis

Mary Nichols, Maryland Heights

Charlie Norr, Springfield

Jeff Roorda, Barnhart

Joe Runions, Grandview

Ed Schieffer, Troy

Jay Swearingen, Kansas City

Stephen Webber, Columbia

DEMOCRATS VOTING NO

Bob Burns, St. Louis

Courtney Curtis, Berkeley

Randy Dunn, Kansas City

Brandon Ellington, Kansas City

Michael Frame, Eureka

Kimberly Gardner, St. Louis

Penny Hubbard, St. Louis

Jacob Hummel, St. Louis

Karla May, St. Louis

Gail McCann Beatty, Kansas City

Tom McDonald, Independence

Bonnaye Mims, Kansas City

Genise Montecillo, St. Louis

Judy Morgan, Kansas City

Stacey Newman, St. Louis

Bill Otto, St. Charles

Sharon Pace, Northwoods

Josh Peters, St. Louis

John Rizzo, Kansas City

Jill Schupp, Creve Coeur

Clem Smith, Velda Village Hills

Steve Webb, Florissant

John Wright, Rocheport

REPUBLICAN NOT VOTING

Jeff Grisamore, Lee’s Summit

DEMOCRATS NOT VOTING

Rory Ellinger, University City

Steve Hodges, East Prairie

Tommie Pierson, St. Louis

Rochelle Walton Gray, Black Jack

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