Missouri Senate Votes to Override Veto on Workers’ Comp

By | April 2, 2012

The Missouri Senate has voted to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s earlier veto of a bill that would change workers’ compensation laws by barring some lawsuits over workplace injuries.

The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a measure that would prohibit employees from suing co-workers for injuries they sustain on the job and would bar workers from taking to court claims related to the ailments they incur as a result of work, such as the lung disease mesothelioma or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Nixon, a Democrat, vetoed the measure earlier this month. Senators voted to override the veto 24-9 in a largely party-line vote. A spokesman for Nixon declined to comment on the Senate’s vote.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, the measure’s sponsor, said including occupational diseases in the workers’ compensation system would allow people suffering from those ailments to get a faster resolution and payment for their medical bills than if the claims were handled by a civil court.

“We’ve got to address that. And failing the governor sitting down with us and telling us what he will accept, we’ve got to move forward with the tools we have as a Legislature,” said Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

He said the Senate’s override vote was necessary because Nixon had not offered lawmakers any suggestions for how to make the measure better.

The workers’ compensation bill was a priority for Republican legislative leaders and business groups. They say it would make Missouri more business-friendly and spur job creation, because the entrepreneurs and companies looking to expand into the state would feel that they face less risk of being involved in costly, time-consuming litigation. The legislation tweaks a 2005 law that overhauled Missouri’s workers’ compensation system.

The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, one of the groups pushing for the changes to the workers’ compensation law, identified it last year as one of six key changes that needed to be made to improve the state’s economic prospects. Missouri Chamber President and CEO Daniel Mehan praised the Senate’s override vote and said the changes would benefit employees and business owners.

“The legislation brings common-sense changes, so that co-employee liability and occupational disease can be handled by our workers’ compensation system, as has been the case for decades, and not be used as a new money stream for enterprising trial attorneys,” Mehan said.

Phil Hess, president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, said his group was “disappointed” with the Senate’s override vote because the workers’ compensation system limits how much some victims can recover, even if the diseases they contract is a fatal one.

“Current law allows these families to access real justice in civil court,” Hess said in an email. “Forcing these families into workers’ comp is not justice.”

A veto override requires a two-thirds vote in the Senate and the House. Republicans fall a few votes short of that in the 163-member House, so they would need support from at least a few Democratic lawmakers. House Majority Leader Tim Jones said he believes the workers’ compensation legislation is important, but he’s not optimistic about a veto override being successful in the House.

The House approved the measure with only 87 votes, just five more than was needed to get a simple majority in that chamber. Jones said the support is slightly greater because several supporters were absent from that vote.

“We just simply do not have the numbers,” said Jones, R-Eureka.

House Speaker Steven Tilley, R-Perryville, has said he wants to negotiate compromise legislation that Nixon would agree to sign. A House committee already has endorsed one measure that could be used as a vehicle for that compromise. That legislation would also modify the state’s Second Injury Fund, which pays benefits to people with disabilities who sustain additional injuries on the job.

The workers’ compensation bill is SB572.

Associated Press writer Chris Blank contributed to this report.

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