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Our Opinion: Plug leaking state coffers from lawsuits

Our Opinion: Plug leaking state coffers from lawsuits

February 8th, 2018 by News Tribune in Opinion

Gov. Eric Greitens has pledged to eliminate waste in state government, including wastes of both time and money.

It's one of the perennial promises from new politicians. And while some do manage to root out governmental waste, many end up touting changes that don't end up making much impact in the scheme of things.

We believe we've found a leak in the state coffers that's worth taking the time to plug. The Associated Press reported, last year, $23 million of your tax dollars have gone to lawsuits against the state. A good chunk of that, nearly $8.1 million, were paid for claims of employment discrimination and harassment.

A year-end report from Attorney General Josh Hawley, a Republican, showed 16 of the 45 major payouts were related to employee discrimination, including six from cases involving workers at the Missouri Department of Corrections, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The AP said the actual total may be higher. Democratic state Auditor Nicole Galloway, in a separate report, has cited millions of more dollars in legal expenses at agencies that use their own attorneys in lawsuits.

Galloway's audit found the Missouri Department of Transportation settled 13 employment claims worth $3.6 million as part of an overall $10.8 million in payouts from January 2015 through last March; the University of Missouri reported 27 medical liability claims and 213 other claims paid on settlements or judgments totaling more than $17 million.

Last year, Hawley started reporting monthly tallies of how much the state paid out in legal expenses to people who have sued Missouri. House Minority Leader Gail McCann Beatty, a Democrat from Kansas City, is sponsoring legislation that would make the report mandatory instead of voluntary.

We support that measure, as we have supported many ways to boost transparency in government. It hasn't always been clear how much our governments — local, state and federal — spends to defend legal claims. When government is spending our money, it should always be clear what is being spend and why.

So how does the governor limit the money the state pays out for lawsuits? You can't snap your fingers and stop the lawsuits or their outcomes. What you can do is change the culture in state government. Send the message from the top down that sexual misconduct, discriminatory behavior and other wrongdoing won't be tolerated.

Offer decent wages and hire good people. Make sure they're trained not only in their jobs, but in expectations for behavior and knowing how to deal with improper behavior.