Area legislators divided on workers’ comp, tort reform

By CARL H. HENDRICKSON

For the Call

Despite showing unity to aid local school districts, state legislators representing south county last week split along party lines over workers’ compensation and tort reform.

In an effort to partially fund the shortfall in state revenue and to aid local school districts, all six state representatives from south county voted to approve the issuance of $397 million in revenue bonds and House Bill 288, called the “Classroom Trust Fund.”

Up to $150 million of the $397 million in revenue bonds will be used within the next four months to help cover an expected $350 million shortfall in revenue.

“I hated to mortgage Missouri’s future, but something had to be done to aid schools, especially for the Han-cock School District that would be seriously harmed if there were deep cuts in the education budget,” Rep. Pat Yaeger, D-Lemay, told the Call.

Currently, gaming revenue goes into the foundation formula, which excludes such hold-harmless school districts as Affton, Lindbergh and Mehlville whose state funding is frozen at 1993 levels. Under House Bill 288, gaming revenue would be placed into a trust fund to be distributed to school districts on a per-pupil basis.

Area legislators last week continued to vote almost as a bloc on education matters as the House passed and sent to the Senate House Bill 73, the “Higher Education Sa-vings Plan.” House Bill 73 would provide Missourians an additional method to invest savings for college on tax-free basis.

From the south county area, all but Yaeger supported the bill.

Yaeger said she did not support the plan because she believes Missouri residents could use tax-exempt money to invest in a college savings fund in another state.

“This is not fair and equitable,” she said.

South county legislators split along party lines over two business-related bills.

The House approved a bill amending the current workers’ compensation system.

Rep. Jim Avery, R-Crestwood, Rep. Walt Bivins, R-Oakville, and Rep. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, supported the bill that Bivins said would help make Missouri “more competitive with surrounding states.”

Yaeger, Rep. Schoemehl, D-Oakville, and Rep. Michael Vogt, D-Affton, opposed it.

Daniel Mehan, Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry president, said the bill would provide meaningful reforms to Missouri’s workers’ compensation system.

“At a time when Missouri is leading the nation in job loss, we can’t afford to allow workers’ compensation abuse to cost our state additional jobs and keep these critical benefits from workers that truly deserve them,” Mehan stated in a news release.

“It would take away workers’ rights and I was elected by the working families of Lemay to represent their interests,” Yaeger contended.

Vogt told the Call, “It’s not good for workers. Businesses are not leaving the state because of workers’ compensation premiums, but because they can make more money elsewhere, often because of cheaper labor costs.”

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.

South county representatives also split along party lines on a bill the Missouri chamber said would bring much-needed change to Missouri’s tort system.

“This legislation is critical to retaining jobs in our state and while it is a national problem, Missouri tort system is among the worst in abuse,” Mehan stated.

Lembke agreed. “Missouri has lost over 90,000 jobs in the past 18 months, many due to frivolous lawsuits,” he said.

But Yaeger called the measure a “work in progress. Its provisions will not provide the reform that is necessary.”

The tort reform bill was passed to the Senate for consideration.

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