Worker’s Compensation ‘Fix’ – Floor Speech as Prepared

Mr. Speaker, to speak in favor of the bill.

Mr. Speaker, to be charitable, this is NOT a perfect bill. Far from it. If I were king, this would not be the solution to this problem. But Mr. Speaker, none of us should insist that bills be perfect before they garner our support.  

This is the seventh year that the General Assembly has confronted the problem of the Second Injury Fund and, I believe, the third year it has considered the issue of the unintentional exclusion of occupational disease from traditional work comp.

For the past three years, I have stood on this floor and argued respectfully with the Gentleman from Butler that his solutions were fundamentally flawed. And then I’ve voted no, time, and time, and time, and time, and time again.

Three years ago, Mr. Speaker, as a first-year freshman, the Gentleman from Butler worked out a solution to the Second Injury Fund with the dearly beloved and now departed Senator from Cape - a solution I believe I could have voted for. But their remedy never came to a vote in either body because there were interest groups on both sides who opposed it.

Mr. Speaker, maybe I’m getting old. Maybe I’ve spent too much time listening to the Gentleman from Boone. Maybe it’s that I have three kids now and find myself seeing the world a little differently.

But Mr. Speaker, I’m ready to move forward because as bad as things have been in the past, it appears they will get much worse in the very near future.   

Mr. Speaker, Senate Bill 1 from 2005 set the stage for the disaster we are attempting to clean-up today. It capped the surcharge used to fund the Second Injury Fund. Actuaries at the time told folks the cap wouldn’t be high enough to pay the claims incurred by the Fund. But in haste, the General Assembly capped the surcharge anyway. That cap slowly but
surely has turned the state of Missouri into a deadbeat.

Why a deadbeat? Because that’s what we call people and companies who fail to pay valid court judgments entered against them. We call them bad people. If they’re a parent and they do this with child support, we have laws that allow prosecutors to put them in jail.

Mr. Speaker, because of Senate Bill 1, the state of Missouri is on pace to be a more than $21 million per year deadbeat. And there’s currently a slew of cases filed by claimants who have won valid judgments against the Second Injury Fund which call on the state of Missouri to pay that which it is legally obligated to pay.

As those cases come in, and this Deadbeat Deficit grows – this body will have one of two choices. Either:

1. We can draw funds out of general revenue and enact a stealth  bailout of the businesses that would otherwise be responsible for paying the costs of these cases if the Second Injury Fund were not around. or

2. We can try to ignore the dictates of the constitution and the rule of law and start a constitutional crisis by ignoring these valid judgments against the state.

Mr. Speaker, I don’t believe in bailouts. And I don’t we should be taking actions to start a constitutional crisis.

Mr. Speaker, we are stuck on the Second Injury Fund. We’ve been stuck for seven years. And the Gentleman from Butler has cleared a path out. I don’t think it’s the best path – but it’s a path.

Mr. Speaker, the Gentleman has also crafted a solution to occupational disease. Again, it’s not a solution which I necessarily like. But it’s time to act.

Mr. Speaker, this bill came from the Senate with certain business groups, labor, and trial attorneys holding hands and skipping stones. They’d found the perfect “solution.” It just so happened that the solution involved a bailout imposed on Main Street small businesses to pay for damages caused by employees of large businesses.  

Mr. Speaker, when the bill came over from the Senate, I went to the Gentleman from Butler and told him, I don’t care that the policy is wrong, dead wrong – just move the bill as is. And I’m sure the special interest groups went to him and made the same plea. The Gentleman from Butler has refused to cave and for good reason. It does not comport with
anyone’s sense of justice that every small business in the state should be
forced to pay for occupational disease claims that not a single one of them
caused.

Mr. Speaker, I know that big businesses are going to try to move the Gentleman from Butler off his position. And Mr. Speaker, I am shocked by their stupidity.

First, their stupidity to believe for a second that this body might stand down and pass their costs on to the small businesses that are the base of our economy.

And second, their unbelievably stupid gamble to harm this bill and, instead of having liability with known costs in comp, to face liability in circuit courts around this state in front of juries of ordinary people who hear terrible and tragic stories like the one which happened to the Gentleman from St. Louis City’s family and will award damages in the millions or tens of millions of dollars.  

Mr. Speaker, for these companies, this should be a simple math problem. The Gentleman from Butler has reduced their total potential liability by orders of magnitude. For the victims of occupational disease injuries, the Gentleman from Butler has added certainty back to the system. He has, in short, drafted the grand bargain that created the comp system decades ago on a smaller scale. 

Finally, Mr. Speaker, before I close, I want to speak briefly about something I don’t think anyone in this body has thought about on this bill. And that is the uncommon courage shown by the Gentleman from Butler to attempt to do this right. Nearly every interest group on this bill wants us to enact a bailout for big business on the backs of small businesses.

Now, some of the groups want that because they’re only interested in the solution of compensation. But the others want it because it’s in their nature to do all they can in this building to avoid liability for their actions – whether that means pushing it off on their own victims, pushing it off on taxpayers, or pushing it off on their usual allies in small business.

Mr. Speaker, the Gentleman from Butler has shown uncommon courage and stood up for what’s right. It’s my great hope that every member of this body will take this into consideration over the next few weeks as we vote on several bills on which various interest groups will be clamoring. 

Mr. Speaker, I applaud the courage of the Gentleman from Butler. And as this bill goes to conference, the message should be loud and clear: the House stands strong behind the Gentleman from Butler. 

Mr. Speaker, it’s time we solve this problem. I encourage every member of this body to vote yes on the Gentleman’s bill.