Rep. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, said he’ll continue to push for reforms to Missouri’s workers’ compensation system even though his proposed bill didn’t pass during the 2012 legislative session.
Schatz, who is completing his first term in the Missouri House this year, spent much of the session championing a bill which would have reformed workers compensation, the second injury fund and how the state deals with occupational diseases.
That bill, HB 1403, was passed along party lines in the House, but never made it to a vote on the Senate floor.
“We had a second injury fund fix we think was acceptable. It obviously wasn’t acceptable to everyone though, as we weren’t able to get it across the finish line,” Schatz told The Missourian last week.
Another bill which did make it to Gov. Jay Nixon’s desk would make some changes to the state’s workers’ compensation fund, however.
That bill, HB 1540, “specifies that an employee will not be liable for a co-employee’s workplace injury or death for which compensation is recoverable under the workers’ compensation laws, except that an employee will not be released from liability for injury or death if the employee engaged in an affirmative negligent act that purposefully and dangerously caused or increased the risk of injury.”
Schatz said the bill, if not vetoed by Nixon, will help protect employees and companies from getting sued.
“I’m glad we at least got that piece done,” he said.
Schatz said HB 1540 addresses one issue, but said issues with the second injury fund and occupational diseases remain.
“Those will be issues we might have to take back up,” he said. “I know it is a looming problem that can’t continue to be ignored.
“There’s about $15 million in claims that have been awarded (from the second injury fund) that we can’t continue to pay interest on, or else we might eventually find the state on the hook. We’re going to have to take it up in a special session (this year) or next year,” Schatz said.
Currently the state funds the second injury fund — a fund used to pay disability claims for employees who experience an injury related to a previously paid workers’ compensation claim — using 3 percent of the premiums collected for workers’ compensation. That premium generates about $40 million in Missouri annually.
Schatz said his proposal would have increased that amount to 6 percent. His bill also would have limited future second injury claims to only those resulting in a total disability.
He said high unemployment has caused the contributions to the pool to decrease.
“There is some sentiment in the Senate that we need to maybe wind the second injury fund down, but right now it does offer some protections for employers who might hire someone who had a previous injury,” Schatz said. “We just couldn’t get the combined bodies to agree.”
The legislation on occupational diseases would have proposed a cap on how large a settlement someone could have received.
“We believe at some point we’ll get a number that will be adequate,” Schatz said. He said Nixon wanted a higher figure — roughly $700,000 in certain cases such as for those diagnosed with mesothelioma.
“That’s far more than any other type of workers’ compensation injury,” Schatz said. “The business community couldn’t accept that.”
He said changes to workers’ compensation laws in 2005 opened the system up to lawsuits on occupational diseases. Prior to that, remedies were limited to the workers’ compensation system.
He had hoped by lumping the three issues into one bill, it would have given the proposal some leverage.