Workers' comp bill debated in Missouri House

| 3/2/2005

The Missouri House on Wednesday, March 2, took up a bill to overhaul the state’s workers’ compensation system.

During floor debate, representatives approved an amendment to strike language from the measure that would have affected existing lawsuits against employers in the state.

The amendment, offered by Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs, removed a provision to wipe out previous allegations of workers’ compensation violations from employers, including motor carriers.

During debate last month, senators dropped the provision from the bill only to have the language reinserted upon arrival in the House.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, representing more than 4,500 Missouri-based professional drivers, fought to have the wording removed from the bill.

Despite efforts by OOIDA to clarify additional language in the bill relating to independent drivers, the House opted to keep a provision that would remove what it classifies as owner-operators from workers’ compensation coverage.

Independent owner-operators who own their own equipment are already exempt from workers’ compensation benefits in the state. The provision, backed by Reps. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, and Jay Wasson, R-Nixa, would expand the definition of owner-operators who are currently exempt to include lease-purchase operators and lease drivers who have no ownership interest in the equipment they operate.

An amendment offered by Pratt and Rep. Tim Meadows, D-Imperial, sought to spell out specifically how the state’s workers’ compensation laws apply to owner-operators. Legislators, however, voted 86-71 against the provision.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill – S1 – would limit the number of workers in the state eligible for compensation. It tightens the definition of a workplace injury by requiring work to be “the prevailing factor” for the injury instead of “a substantial factor.” In addition, people traveling to and from work in a company-owned or subsidized vehicle would no longer be eligible for compensation under the bill.

The House bill goes further by requiring people deciding workers’ compensation cases to give preference to objective medical findings by a doctor over subjective complaints of pain. Also, if an employee fails to tell their employers of a work-related injury within 30 days, their ability to receive compensation could be jeopardized, under the House version.

When approved, the bill will head to the Senate for final approval. It will then head to Gov. Matt Blunt, who is expected to sign the measure into law.

For a breakdown of who voted for and against the Pratt and Meadows amendment, click here.