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Workers' Comp Bill Voted Through to Senate

January 26, 2005
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's workers' compensation program could be in for some major reconstructive surgery.

A bill sponsored by Sen. John Loudon (R-St. Louis County) would rewrite the state law and narrow the definition of a work-related injury.

The changes are something that the Republican controlled Legislature and Gov. Matt Blunt say are needed to fix a system they say is scaring jobs away from Missouri.

"I'm hearing all the time from businesses that say I was run out of Missouri," Loudon said. "Not Mexico. I'm talking about people who are going to the Southwest."

The bill was approved Wednesday by the committee Loudon chairs and sent on to full Senate for debate. The vote was 6-3 and broke down party lines.

When a worker is injured on the job, workers' compensation is supposed to pick up their medical bills and lost wages. Larger pay outs are sometimes made in cases of permanent injuries. The system was built in 1926 after it was approved by a statewide popular vote.

Supporters of the bill say that the number of undeserving claims and lawsuits today are driving up costs.

According to state records, the total number of worker claims dropped 19 percent between 1999 and 2003 while the average cost per case rose from $9,110 to $11,636.

Loudon says his bill will reduce the number of injury claims and lawsuits filed by tightening the law's language and specifying that only those whose job was the "prevailing" cause of their injury qualify.

"This is a major fix," Loudon said. "By closing those holes we are going to have more money for those who are legitimately injured."

The new wording would eliminate coverage for workers injured in car accidents while driving to work, even if they're driving a company car. And it would reject claims on injuries that are caused by the "ordinary, gradual deterioration of the body," like a heart attack or a joint injury deemed to be caused by aging.

Opponents of the bill say it's an unnecessary measure that does not address the system's real troubles.

"Once again we're blaming the increase in workers' comp rates on the injured worker," said Sen. Tim Green (D-St. Louis County). "We're doing a lot of sprucing up but we're not solving the problem."

When Loudon's committee held a public hearing on the bill, they heard testimony from workers who said that the system had failed to provide for the legitimately injured.

"I hired an attorney because they wouldn't pay my medical bills," said Kevin Laytham, a truck driver would said he was severely injured after being forced to drive an poorly serviced truck called a yard dog. "I tried the work comp system and it failed. They turned their back on me."