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Committee hears testimony on workers' comp

January 19, 2005
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - A Senate committee considering a reduction of benefits in Missouri's workers' compensation program heard emotional testimony Wednesday from workers who felt abandoned by a system one Republican Senator called "broken."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Loudon (R-St. Louis County), would redefine when workers' compensation fees are awarded. The proposed legislation would narrow the definition of injury so that workers could only collect benefits if their job was the "prevailing" cause of the accident. It reduces benefits when an injury worsens a pre-existing condition. And it eliminates benefits for injuries that happen en-route to work and ailments whose cause cannot be determined.

Proponents argue that cutting out undeserving recipients is necessary to drive down costs, which rose 14.7 percent in 2003 but the Department of Insurance estimates will drop in 2005.

Opponents say the program's real problems are being ignored.

Speaking in favor of the legislation were representatives of a variety of management interests. Business representatives argued that Missouri is losing out to neighboring states because its workers' compensation costs are too high.

"The employers are telling us it's out of control. There is no fairness, there is no reasonableness," said Steve Jenkins, president of an economic development organization in Laclede county.

Injured workers gave accounts of a system unable to meet its own standards and urged the committee to write legislation that would fix the system.

"I ask of you to find something that's suitable for the workers," said Kevin Lantham, a former truck driver from Blue Springs who came to the hearing in wheelchair. "Not the employers, but the employees."

Lantham said he went without income for four years after workers' compensation first failed to make the initial payments he was due and then denied his claim. He said did not receive any compensation until he settled a civil lawsuit.

Sen. Carl Vogel, the committee's vice chairman, said they did not expect to vote on the bill this week.