Legislative News

The Senate began its 10th week of session focusing on legislation that will further reform workers’ compensation laws in Missouri. When an employee is injured on the job, workers’ compensation benefits are there to cover medical expenses and provide compensation for lost wages. These benefits are meant to be temporary, created to help an employee get through the recovery process and back to work if possible.

Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Greer v. Sysco Foods has made it possible for temporary disability benefits to continue almost indefinitely, without the employee ever transitioning to permanent disability. This situation is not only costly for employers, but it also means both parties face prolonged periods of uncertainty. By creating a clear point in time when temporary disability benefit payments end and permanent disability payments begin, we can make our workers’ compensation laws more business-friendly and attract new investment to our state.

Under Senate Bill 66, an injured worker will only be eligible to receive temporary total and temporary partial disability benefits until he or she reaches “maximum medical improvement,” or MMI. Maximum medical improvement is defined as the point at which an injured worker’s medical condition has stabilized and can no longer reasonably improve, as determined by the employer’s physician within a reasonable degree of medical certainty. The maximum amount of time an injured employee can receive temporary total disability benefits is 400 weeks, even if the employee has reached MMI but is unable to return to work.

Claimants will still have the opportunity to receive a second opinion from a physician of their choosing, but they must do so in a timely manner. For all compromise settlements offered after an employee has reached MMI, he or she will have 12 months to obtain a second opinion. Extenuating circumstances, as determined by an administrative law judge, can allow for an extension of this time limit. Employers may waive these provisions without stating a reason.

In addition to passing SB 66, the Senate also approved legislation that will make it easier for business and industry to take advantage of “Chapter 100” bonds — also known as Industrial Development Revenue bonds. Named for the chapter of Missouri statutes that authorizes them, Chapter 100 bonds are the state’s oldest form of economic development. Chapter 100 allows a private company to utilize a local government’s tax exempt status in several ways in order to save costs on property taxes or the purchase of construction and equipment.

Since Chapter 100 projects were first formalized in Missouri’s 1947 Constitution, changes in statute regarding eligible projects have created a great deal of confusion — so much so that businesses are being forced to hire a team of lawyers to determine project eligibility. The time and expense involved in accessing these bonds has discouraged companies from using them. Senate Bill 11 will eliminate confusion surrounding Chapter 100 projects, making it easier for businesses to take advantage of this great resource and invest in Missouri’s economy.

Finally, the Senate is also considering a measure (Senate Bill 29) that would save taxpayers money by eliminating prevailing wage laws in the state for maintenance work. Prevailing wage is essentially a minimum wage paid to construction workers who work on state projects. Prevailing wage rates are set by the Department of Labor and vary from county to county.

Sen. Ron Richard with members of Crowder College and East Newton’s Youth Changing Youth Coalition at the Capitol on Wednesday, March 8.

Missouri is a very diverse state, and what it costs to repair or maintain a school building in Kansas City is not the same as what it costs in southwest Missouri. As it stands now, our rural municipalities are subject to the prevailing wage standards for urban areas. Unsurprisingly, repealing Missouri’s prevailing wage law is one of the main requests we get from rural community leaders. As far as economic development, this is one of the most important labor reforms we can pass. Senate Bill 29 has been heard in committee and is awaiting debate on the Senate floor.

Finally, I was very pleased to meet with members of Crowder College and East Newton’s Youth Changing Youth Coalition at the Capitol on Wednesday.