For Immediate Release:
Feb. 13, 2013

Contact: (573) 751-2420

Sen. Walsh Instrumental in Improvement of Workers' Compensation Reform Legislation

JEFFERSON CITY — Sen. Gina Walsh, D- Bellefontaine Neighbors, worked this week to improve Senate Bill 1, which addresses the insolvency of the Second Injury Fund.  The fund, which was created 70 years ago, provides assistance to disabled workers who suffer a second injury on the job.  In 2005, lawmakers capped the surcharge businesses pay on their workers’ compensation insurance premiums to finance the Second Injury Fund.  That 3 percent cap is partly to blame for a $25-million shortfall in the fund that the state auditor warns will continue to grow unless the fund is replenished.

Senate Bill 1 increases the surcharge to 4.5 percent for the rest of the year and allows the Division of Workers’ Compensation to increase the surcharge to 6 percent through 2020 in an effort to meet all of the fund’s outstanding obligations.  The measure attempts to limit future costs to the Second Injury Fund by restricting coverage only to those who are permanently and totally disabled.

Senate Bill 1 also addresses an unintended consequence of the 2005 law, which made it more difficult for an employee to prove an injury was work-related.  Missouri judges ruled the 2005 law meant occupational diseases were no longer considered “accidents” and therefore did not have to be covered under workers’ compensation policies.  Businesses are concerned that employers could face expensive lawsuits for work-related illnesses.  Senator Walsh worked with the bill’s sponsor and her colleagues to ensure that people with occupational diseases are fairly compensated.

“Folks like me who have been in the construction trades all of our lives have been exposed to numerous chemicals and toxins that were fairly common before their risks were known,” Sen. Walsh said.  “Asbestos used to be the miracle mineral and was used for a variety of things like thermal pipe insulation, drywall and joint compound, vinyl floor tiles – you name it.  Many of my co-workers have died at a relatively young age because of mesothelioma and other occupational diseases they contracted simply by going to work each day.”

Senate Bill 1 creates an enhanced workers’ compensation benefit of more than $150,000 for workers suffering from certain occupational diseases caused by exposure to toxic chemicals.  The measure provides an enhanced benefit up to $600,000 for workers suffering from mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos. 

Senator Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said the enhanced benefit for those suffering from mesothelioma is appropriate given the disease is a death sentence.

“It is 100 percent fatal and it has one known cause, only one known cause, and it is a disease and a way to die of a nature and magnitude such that ordinary workers’ compensation remedies, in my view, are simply insufficient to compensate the victim and his or her family adequately,” Sen. Sifton said during floor debate.

Senators have been debating SB 1 on and off since Feb. 4 and gave first-round approval to the bill Tuesday night.  The Senate is expected to third read and finally pass SB 1 before adjourning this week, sending the measure to the House for consideration.