The state House has passed its version of workers compensation reform and a Second Injury Fund fix, setting the stage for a conference with the Senate.
Both versions of the bill would have claims made by workers who incurred a disease because of their job fall under the state’s workers’ compensation system, to protect employers from lawsuits. They include a plan to create a fund to pay for part benefits to people who suffer from diseases related to exposure to toxins.
Representative Kevin Engler (R-Farmington) says the Senate proposal would have every employer in the state pay into that fund, an idea he opposed when he was in the Senate and still opposes.
“Whether you deal with chemicals or deal with anything else, every employer in the state will have a tax to take care of the fund that was caused by the people that brought chemicals in that caused these occupational hazards.”
The House proposal would support that fund with a surcharge to the workers’ compensation insurance premiums of only employers with 15 or more employees.
The state’s Second Injury Fund compensates workers with disabilities who sustain job-related injuries. It is supported by a surcharge on employers’ workers’ compensation insurance premiums that the state capped in 2005 at 3 percent. The fund is now insolvent, and the bill proposes raising that cap to 6 percent to replenish it.
The House sponsor of the bill, Representative Todd Richardson (R-Poplar Bluff) says that fund is more than $20 million out of balance.
“There are more than 800 claimants right now that aren’t getting paid and there are more than … 30,000 unresolved Second Injury Fund claims.”
Richardson says the House and Senate are in agreement on the portion of the bill dealing with the Second Injury Fund. He expects the Senate to request a conference to work out differences on the workers’ compensation and occupational disease language.