JEFFERSON CITY – After years of intense legislative negotiations between lawmakers, Missouri Chamber employer members, and Gov. Jay Nixon, a compromise has been struck to make Missouri’s Second Injury Fund fiscally viable and to bring occupational disease back under the protection of Missouri’s workers’ compensation system. The compromise on Senate Bill 1 was achieved during conference between the Missouri House and the Missouri Senate and the legislation received final approval by the Senate today on a 33-1 vote. The legislation now heads to the Missouri House for approval.
“This is a significant victory for Missouri employers, who fund Missouri’s workers compensation system, and who ultimately were on the hook for the mounting liability problems within the law were causing,” said Missouri Chamber President Dan Mehan. “Failure to act would have handed the fate of these problems to the courts, a dangerous proposition for Missouri employers. We are grateful that lawmakers chose, instead, to fight for Missouri workers and employers and craft a balanced solution.”
Within the SB 1 compromise are provisions that would establish strong reforms to Missouri’s Second Injury Fund to limit claims to those for which the fund was originally intended – workplace injuries that occur to employees that have previous military injuries or injuries that were caused by prior work-related events. The bill also includes a funding mechanism that will bring the SIF back to solvency. The fund is currently $31 million in the red, with total liability at almost $1 billion, once pending cases are adjudicated.
“Employers demanded reforms to the system and they had a right to demand changes, as it is their money that funds it. The fund had been grossly expanded over the last decade to cover claims that should not have been part of the fund. This bill ends that.” Mehan said.
In addition, the compromise brings all occupational diseases back under the workers’ compensation system. Nine toxic exposure conditions will be eligible for enhanced remedy of up to $150,000 and guaranteed death benefits. The toxic exposure condition of mesothelioma will be eligible for $500,000 in enhanced remedy. An employer can opt to have coverage for toxic exposure under work comp policy, to pay for remedy out of a pool to be administered by the Department of Labor, or address any mesothelioma cases in circuit court.
“The legislation is not perfect, but it does provide a fix to two growing problems within our workers’ compensation system and frankly is the best we can do in this political climate,” Mehan said. “We had three choices: 1) Leave the system as it is and continue providing an open ended money stream for trial attorneys. 2) Pass legislation bringing occupational disease entirely under work compensation with no expanded benefits and have that legislation be vetoed. 3) Pass a compromise this legislative session to provide employers some protection now, and work to refine it in future sessions.”
The problem in the law also has a negative impact on Missouri workers. Missouri is the only state in the nation that does not cover occupational disease under its workers’ compensation system. Without protections of the workers’ compensation system, common work place ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive motion injuries and hearing loss were being pushed into court, burdening employees with uncertainty and expense for conditions that were covered quickly and equitably in the past.
The Missouri Chamber applauds leadership and the bill sponsor, Sen. Scott Rupp, who made this issue a priority and did an enormous amount of work and negotiating to accomplish the feat of finding a path to passage.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry (www.mochamber.com) was founded in 1923 and is the largest business association in Missouri, representing almost 3,000 employers providing more than 425,000 jobs for Missourians.