Legislative Column for the Week of Monday, April 7, 2014
Addressing Missouri's Legal Climate

Legislative News

Shown above, Senator Richard met with the 2013-2014 Class III State Champion Neosho High School wrestling members and coaching staff during their visit to the Capitol on Tuesday, April 8, 2014.

For more than three years, several senators have worked on legislation to overhaul and revise our state’s criminal code. The result was Senate Bill 491, a more than 1,000-page bill containing numerous provisions to modernize and streamline our existing criminal code. It’s a task that hasn’t been done in 35 years, an indication of just how massive an undertaking this is.

This session, we’ve been steadily working on the bill, devoting a substantial amount of floor debate vetting each and every individual part of the legislation. Many lawmakers were concerned about approving such a large measure in a single session. The sponsoring senators then spent three weeks pairing the bill down to a more feasible 700 pages. They’ve also provided cross reference sheets and online tools to help both legislators and the public follow the changes.

The law also won’t go into effect until 2017, which will give legislators time to address any errors or unintended consequences of the bill. Even after that, the Legislature would, and always will, have the ability to change or reform standing statutes to ensure they meet judicial muster and achieve their intended goal.

Our efforts culminated with the Senate passing Senate Bill 491 this week. The legislation has a long road ahead, though. I completely understand the need to update and strengthen our criminal code. Prosecutors, criminal defenders, and members of the judicial branch have all pushed for revisions. It needs to be done. However, it is my hope we continue to take a measured, careful approach to this legislation.

Keeping with legal matters, the Senate also worked on tort reform this week, which addresses lawsuits in Missouri, specifically medical malpractice cases.

Most states in the country already have limits on noneconomic damages, such as “pain and suffering,” which are subjective terms not easily defined. For years, Missouri also set limits on these types of jury awards. Previously, the cap was set at $579,000. In 2005, the Legislature lowered that to $350,000 in an effort to control the huge numbers of frivolous lawsuits moving through our courts for medical malpractice. These cases were driving up health care costs and causing doctors to flee the state. 

The legislation worked. Lawsuits dropped substantially, victims received fair compensation, and businesses were protected from excessive jury awards. Then, a year and a half ago, judges on the Missouri Supreme Court ruled those caps were unconstitutional. We’ve now returned to the pre-cap days, with medical professionals eying the door for neighboring states with fair legal systems that grant both sides of a case a degree of legal protection.

A handful of bills this year address tort reform and re-establish caps on noneconomic damages in civil cases. No one denies that victims in civil cases deserve remuneration. However, if juries are given carte blanche to hand out huge awards, often out of some mistaken attempt at justice, the healthcare industry will be hard hit.

Businesses relocate to states where they know that if they’re sued, they will face an even-handed and fair justice system. A lack of caps is having dire effects on the ability of our state to grow. If this issue isn’t addressed, medical malpractice insurance will skyrocket, which only increases costs for consumers and pushes good doctors out of the state. It also prevents us from bringing the types of companies to Missouri we need to foster true economic prosperity.

District News

This week, the Missouri Credit Union Association has offered the following tips to help citizens create a “rainy day” fund for emergencies:

  • Identify Your Essential Monthly Expenses

    Before you can save, you need to know how much to save.  Look at your monthly expenses and categorize them as essential (rent/mortgage, car, food, utilities, credit card minimums, etc.) and non-essential (entertainment, eating out, clothes, cell phone, etc.).  Then add up the essentials to determine your monthly income needs.

  • Multiply Your Essential Expense Amount by Six

    Most credit union financial experts suggest having at least six months of essential expenses saved up in an emergency fund.  While this number may be daunting, it is the best way to avoid difficult financial circumstances such as bankruptcy, loan default or eviction when you have a loss in income.

  • Create a Savings Plan

    Start by identifying how you can realistically amass the amount you need, and within what time frame – whether six months, one year or three years.  The goal is to generate a savings habit within your income and budgetary means.

  • Don’t Get Frustrated

    The slow accumulation of funds in your savings account can be frustrating.  If you find yourself losing interest, try incorporating a visual around the house.  For instance, keep a jar close by and fill it with loose change and money you save by eating in or avoiding that daily coffee purchase.

  • Ask for Help

    Sit down with a financial counselor at your local credit union and ask for help identifying ways you can save.  It is likely they have products or services that can help you reach your goal faster.