State senators spent a considerable amount of time this week debating two important issues: our state workers’ compensation laws and compliance with the federal REAL ID Act. Earlier today, the Senate approved legislation that will reform Missouri’s workers’ compensation system by carefully balancing the need to protect injured workers with the need to keep our business community and job creation efforts intact.
The Missouri Supreme Court’s 2014 decision in Templemire v. W&M Welding opened up Missouri employers to greater lawsuit liability under workers’ compensation laws. The ruling broke with almost 30 years of case law that required employees who were injured on the job to prove their workers’ compensation claim was the “exclusive factor” for their firing. Since Templemire, in order to win a wrongful discharge lawsuit, injured employees only have to prove their workers’ compensation claim was a “contributing factor” in their firing. By significantly lowering the standard of proof, the Supreme Court made it easier for anyone with a prior workers’ compensation claim to file a lawsuit against their employers.
Senate Bill 113 will restore the original standard of proof in workers’ compensation discrimination cases. Additionally, it stipulates that workers’ compensation payments will be reduced by 50 percent if the injured employee tests positive for illegal drugs, alcohol or non-prescribed drugs within 24 hours of the incident; an administrative law judge may determine if there were mitigating circumstances on a case-by-case basis. It also stipulates that an employee who voluntarily quits their job after the employer has made medically compliant work available cannot receive temporary disability benefits. Finally, it provides that claimants may agree to a full and final workers’ compensation resolution that cannot be reopened.
Our laws and our judges should not favor one party over another. Unfortunately, the extreme decisions handed down by Missouri courts over the last decade has eroded the balance of our workers’ compensation system — so much so that many employers have started practicing more defensive business judgements because of the fear of retaliation. While it is absolutely essential that we protect injured workers, we must also ensure Missouri businesses are not being unnecessarily harmed by frivolous lawsuits. Senate Bill 113 provides a much-needed check on judicial activism in the area of workers’ compensation while maintaining adequate protections and remedies for workers who are injured on the job.
After the 2001 terrorist attacks, the 9/11 Commission recommended to the federal government that they set minimum standards for state-issued driver’s licenses and identification cards. In response, Congress passed the REAL ID Act of 2005. The Act requires states to scan and retain source documentation, such as a birth certificate, of their citizens. Due to privacy concerns, about half of states chose not to comply. In 2009, the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation banning the Department of Revenue (DOR) from complying with the REAL ID Act.
On Jan. 22, 2018, the Department of Homeland Security will implement the next phase of the Act, which requires all passengers to present a REAL ID-compliant license before they are allowed to board domestic flights. Without legislative action, Missourians will be required to present an alternative form of acceptable ID, such as a U.S. passport, to board their flights.
While lawmakers’ concerns over privacy and federal overreach have not gone away, we do not want to see our constituents inconvenienced. This week, the Senate took up Senate Bills 37 and 244, which allows the DOR to issue REAL ID-compliant driver’s licenses and IDs if applicants prefer to have one. This legislation strikes an important balance by giving Missourians the option of being REAL ID-compliant but not forcing them to do so.
Pictured above, Sen. Ron Richard with Hannah Rockers at the Capitol on Feb. 20. Hannah was attending the 2017 4-H Legislative Academy. She is a student at Carthage High School.
Finally, Missouri 4-H youth leaders came to the Capitol this week for the 2017 4-H Legislative Academy. This annual, three-day event provides unique learning opportunities for promising 4-H youth leaders and participants, so they can attain skills in legislative advocacy. I was very pleased to present delegate Hannah Rockers with a resolution commemorating the occasion. A student at Carthage High School in Jasper County, Hannah has been an involved member of 4-H for the past 10 years.
I always appreciate hearing your comments, opinions and concerns. Please feel free to contact me in Jefferson City at (573) 751-2173. You may write to me at Senator Ron Richard, Missouri Senate, State Capitol, 201 W. Capitol Ave., Rm. 326, Jefferson City, MO 65101; email me at email@example.com or visit me on the Web at www.senate.mo.gov/richard.