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Workers' Comp bill wins first round approval.

February 09, 2005
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The narrowing of injuries covered under Missouri's workers' compensation law won first round approval Wednesday night.

After two sessions and more than five and a half hours of debate, the bill was approved at 7:19 by a voice vote of those present.

The legislation would tighten the definition of what qualifies for workers' compensation. Only those injuries where the job is deemed to be the "prevailing" cause would earn benefits. Heart attacks at the workplace or car accidents while driving a company car would not qualify.

The approval marked the end of two days of intense negotiation. The bill will now be printed and submitted for formal approval in a roll call vote. After that it will move to the House.

While the bill's fundamentals remain unchanged, several notable amendments were approved. They include:

-Erasing a passage that would have removed the financial incentive for lawyers to represent employees in lawsuits against their bosses. Employees often cannot afford an attorney on their own. Without a financial reward for winning cases, lawyers would have little incentive to represent poor clients.

-Solidifying penalties against insurance companies and employers that fail or refuse to abide by the law.

-Requiring that workers' compensation regulations be posted at a "conspicuous" location in the workplace.

Critics of the bill say it still does not address major problems in the system. One problem left unfixed, said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis County, was that injured workers are waiting too long for their settlements. Many are forced to go on unemployment to pay the bills, which jeopardizes their settlement, he said.

"The injured worker wants to go back to work," Green said. "They are being neglected."

The bill, SB1, was sponsored by Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County. Republicans in the capital, including Gov. Matt Blunt, claim changes are necessary to make Missouri more business friendly.

After the vote, several senators went out of their way to commend what they saw as an example of positive cooperation between the two parties.

"There are things in this bill that are still problematic," said Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County. "But this is an example of the Senate working as it should work."