Governor Jay Nixon (D) vetoed a similar bill last month that originated in the Senate. The House version contains most of the same provisions – it would bar employees from suing each other over workplace injuries and illnesses, and it would restore occupational disease claims within the workers’ comp system. State Rep. Jacob Hummel (D, St. Louis) debated with the bill’s sponsor, Dave Schatz (R, Sullivan).
“If we went back to the pre-2005 (level), and someone died from asbestos (poisoning), what would be the death benefit that they would get out of the workers’ comp system?” Hummel asked. Schatz responded: “I believe it was $5,000.”
Hummell then erupted: “Five thousand dollars! And you think my grandfather’s life was worth $5,000, after he worked his whole life and he drowned in his own fluid, that's what you think it's worth?”
Republicans argued that victims of occupational diseases can sue the manufacturer of toxic substances, and that the bill does nothing to change that. It would also seek to fix the state’s ailing Second Injury Fund by tightening the eligibility requirements for filing claims.
“We have currently about 16,000 pending cases that have not been adjudicated that are racking up interest as we speak, that are gonna be a cost ultimately at some point in time if we don’t address that," Schatz said.
Opponents argued that removing the cap and allowing the market to determine the Second Injury Fund surcharge businesses have to pay is the only way to save the fund.
The bill was perfected 81-67. It needs one more vote by the full House before moving to the State Senate.