A proposal which is a response to the Missouri Corrections Department scandal is being considered by state lawmakers.
$7.6 million in state money was paid out to employees who filed lawsuits for being harassed, abused and intimidated in a four-year period from 2012-2016.
House Democrat Minority Floor Leader Gail McCann Beatty of Kansas City notes the settlements required the alleged victims to sign documents stating no violations took place.
“They get paid off, and then nothing is done to correct the problem” said McCann Beatty. “And we have created a horrible environment for employees that are the lowest paid state employees, probably in the country. Now we’ve put them in an environment that is absolutely horrible as well.”
The settlements were exposed by a story in The Pitch newspaper in November. After hearing about the scandal, McCann Beatty made an inquiry to the state attorney general’s office to find out how much the state was paying out to cover settlement claims.
She distributed a handout showing results over the past five years while introducing the proposal to the House Budget Committee Tuesday.
Those numbers revealed the state had set aside $30 million for such settlements, but paid out a total of $60 million. McCann Beatty notes the money’s used to cover all claims against the state, regardless of who handles the litigation.
“There are three areas that the attorney general does not have purview over in these cases. They do their own investigations, have their own outside council, yet the state’s on the hook for whatever those settlements are – the Department of Conservation, the Department of Transportation and our public universities.”
The Proposal calls for lawmakers to be made aware of all activity involving the State Legal Expense Fund, which issues the payments. Reports would have to be made on a monthly basis by the attorney general’s office.
No one testified for or against McCann Beatty’s proposal. Committee Democratic Ranking Minority Member Michael Butler of St. Louis and Republican Kathie Conway of St. Charles offered support. “I think this is a very common sense answer to a very horrible problem that we have” said Conway.
Republican David Gregory of St. Louis County wondered if it would be wise to have a public record of claims paid by the state. “Do you think that it could be dangerous for plaintiff’s attorneys and their clients to know what the state is willing to pay on certain claims and lawsuits?”
McCann Beatty responded that the information could probably be obtained through a sunshine request.