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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — The state of Missouri no longer would face financial punishment for wrongdoing in some civil lawsuits under legislation debated Tuesday in the state Senate.

The proposal would give the state what's called "sovereign immunity," the legal concept that protects government agencies from lawsuits in many cases.

The legislation would mean the Missouri government couldn't be penalized with what are called punitive damages, which are used in civil court cases to punish or deter bad actions.

Bill sponsor Republican Sen. Bill White, of Joplin, said under the legislation Missouri still could face big payouts in court cases if agencies are found to have committed wrongdoings. But he said he doesn't believe punitive damages deter bad behavior, especially because the money ultimately comes from taxpayers.

The bill gives the state government immunity from punitive damages in lawsuits alleging disclosure of HIV records, unlawful discrimination, wrongful death cases, and injuries caused by dumping waste, records from among other things.

"Is that really good public policy?" suburban St. Louis Democratic Sen. Scott Sifton said. "Do you want the government to be able to say that they can pollute without punitive damages on the table?"

The proposal is included in a bill with numerous provisions aimed at limiting lawsuits against businesses.

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