Two pieces of legislation that originated in the Commitee on Workforce Development and Workplace Safety, of which Rep. McManus is the ranking minority member, received final approval by Missouri House and Senate. In addition, the House Budget Committee, on which Rep. McManus also sits, gave preliminary approval to the FY 2013 state budget.
CHANGES TO WORKPLACE DISCRIMINATION LAWS SENT TO GOVERNOR
The Senate on March 8 voted 23-8 to grant final passage to legislation that would make it easier for employers to escape legal responsibility for engaging in workplace discrimination. The vote was along straight party lines with Republicans in support and Democrats opposed. Because the House of Representatives had already passed the bill last month, it now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon, who vetoed similar legislation last year and is expected to do so again.
HB 1219 would substantially raise the legal bar for bringing claims of unlawful workplace discrimination based on race, gender, age, disability or religion. For cases that still manage to make to court, the bill would severely limit the amount of damages victims could recover.
LAWMAKERS APPROVE CHANGES TO WORKERS’ COMPENSATION LAW
By a vote of 87-68, the House of Representatives on March 7 sent a workers’ compensation bill to Gov. Jay Nixon. The bill, which the Senate approved 26-8 last month, was sought by Missouri business groups to undo many of the changes to the workers’ compensation system enacted in 2005 at the behest of those very same groups.
The 2005 overhaul set a higher legal bar for bringing workers’ compensation claims and removed certain types of injuries from the system. At the time, opponents warned that removing such cases from the workers’ compensation system would result in them being filed in civil court. Although the burden of proof is higher in civil court, so is the potential financial liability for employers if they lose. Business groups sought to reverse the 2005 changes after those predictions became reality.
This year’s bill, SB 572, still generated controversy, however, because it goes beyond merely undoing the now-disfavored 2005 changes. In particular, it would place occupational diseases, such as those suffered from asbestos exposure, under the workers’ compensation system. Claims for occupational diseases traditionally have been brought in civil court.
HOUSE COMMITTEE APPROVES FY 2013 STATE BUDGET
The House Budget Committee on March 7 approved the 13 appropriations bills that make up the roughly $24 billion state operating budget for the 2013 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The full House of Representatives will likely take up the budget bills shortly after its reconvenes on March 19 following its annual spring recess. Both the House and the Senate must agree on the budget bills by a constitutional deadline of May 11.
The most controversial move made by majority Republicans on the budget committee was to cut state health care services for the blind. The roughly $30 million in savings would be used to avoid funding cuts to public colleges and universities. House Democrats and Gov. Jay Nixon have steadfastly opposed eliminating health care for the blind.
FY 13 REVENUE UP SLIGHTY, STATE BORROWS FOR CASH FLOW
Year-to-date net state general revenue collections were up 2.4 percent through the first eight months of the 2012 fiscal year compared to the same period in FY 2011, going from $4.44 billion last year to $4.55 billion this year. Net collections increased 15.1 percent in February 2012 compared to February 2011, going from $345.8 million to $398.2 million.
The state also borrowed $150 million from the Budget Reserve Fund for cash flow purposes during February, bringing the total borrowed for the year to $225 million. The money must be repaid by a constitutional deadline of May 15.