Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, Feb. 11, 2013
Senate Approve Second Injury Fund Fix

The Senate approved two measures this week designed to help Missouri businesses and employees. On Tuesday, we gave first-round approval to Senate Bill 1, which would modify provisions relating to Missouri’s Second Injury Fund and workers’ compensation system.

Missouri’s SIF was created to encourage employers to hire disabled workers or those with a previous work injury. By funneling subsequent claims from these workers into the SIF, businesses would be protected from the increased liability of hiring a disabled employee. The SIF is funded through a surcharge on workers’ compensation insurance premiums.

Then 2008 hit, and as unemployment rose, workers’ compensation insurance premiums fell, bringing in less and less money for the fund. Eventually, the fiscal obligations of the SIF outgrew the revenue it raised each year. It is now near insolvency, with more than $28 million in outstanding liabilities and thousands of cases that haven’t even been considered yet.

On Thursday, we passed SB 1, which allows the surcharge rate that funds the SIF to be raised in instances of a shortfall. By removing the previous cap on the surcharge, the rate can be adjusted to meet the fund’s needs, ensuring its solvency in the future. The bill also addresses occupational disease within the workers’ compensation system. There was a great deal of urgency with this issue, and I was proud we moved quickly to address it this year. 

We also approved Senate Bill 28, which clarifies who can qualify for unemployment benefits. Under current Missouri law, the standards for determining who can draw unemployment are fairly loose. It’s not uncommon at all for an employee who was fired for gross negligence to turn around and draw unemployment benefits. This isn’t right. Unemployment benefits should be for workers who lose their job through no fault of their own, not an employee who was fired for misconduct.

Senate Bill 28 redefines the standards for receiving unemployment so only those workers who truly deserve the benefits receive them. This is a common-sense change, and long overdue. It also helps Missouri workers by protecting the unemployment system from being fiscally strained by undeserving claims.

In other news, March 1 is the start of catch-and-keep fishing season at Missouri’s trout parks. Every year, the Missouri Department of Conservation stocks trout at four parks—Bennett Spring near Lebanon, Montauk near Licking, Roaring River near Cassville, and Maramec Spring Park near St. James—from March 1 through Oct. 31.

The department expects to sell 400,000 tags and stock more than 900,000 fish through the season. This is a wonderful program, and I encourage all local anglers to take part. For more information, visit the Department of Conservation’s website at www.mdc.mo.gov