The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

November 21, 2012

Tim Jones, guest columnist: Legislative priortities and state's business climate

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — As we prepare for the legislative session and my first year as speaker of the Missouri House of Representatives, we will focus on policy changes that will affect Missouri’s legal environment. Our agenda will include legislation designed to retain major employers and professionals, improve our business climate and comprehensively revise our complicated criminal code.

Missouri’s fight to keep major employers in this state has become a war with two fronts. On one side we have legal uncertainty created by Missouri’s confusing regulatory environment. On the other we have neighboring states that have enacted attractive, pro-growth, business-oriented reforms. Both have worked together to entice many of our best employers to flee. Our goal will be to eliminate the issues that place Missouri at a disadvantage when competing with our neighbors for businesses, jobs and medical professionals.

Efforts to streamline employment law will take center stage in 2013. Last year we were able to pass, and the governor was willing to sign, our co-employee liability change. The House also passed, but the governor vetoed, bills to put occupational disease cases in the workers’ compensation system where they belong, as well as legislation to make the Missouri Human Rights Act more closely reflect federal law.

Without reform, Missouri employers will be forced to deal with two separate employment discrimination regimes that are frequently at odds, as well as occupational disease cases with unlimited damage potential. This year we will work toward changes that foster the kind of legal environment that will provide the certainty employers need to prosper.

In 2013 we will return to the issue of the insolvency of the Second Injury Fund. The House passed a fix for the bankrupt fund in 2012, but the bill stalled in the Senate. We must continue to look at ways to fix a fund that collected $43 million from Missouri businesses in 2011 but fell well short of the $77 million it needed to meet its obligations. In 2013 we will look for solutions that gradually bring this program to a close. What we will not do is support a massive tax increase on employers to put additional dollars into what is a tragically flawed model.

Earlier this year the Watts case struck down what was a reasonable limit on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice cases. This decision places Missouri at a distinct disadvantage when competing for medical professionals and excellent health care with a neighboring state like Kansas that has a lower damage cap of $250,000. In the upcoming session we will work to place reasonable limits back in place to prevent our health care and insurance costs from skyrocketing and doctors from fleeing our state.

Further, Missouri’s criminal code is due for comprehensive revision. Since the last reforms were made in the 1970s, the Legislature has made numerous changes to the code that have left it disorganized and, in some cases, inconsistent. At present, Sen. Jolie Justus is leading an interim committee charged with studying necessary changes. In the upcoming session, we will give strong consideration to the legislation produced from the committee’s recommendations and the recommendations of the Missouri Bar.

In 2013 we will be ready and willing to tackle the large, pressing issues that must be addressed if our state is to move in a positive direction. Missouri is a state filled with great promise, but we cannot fulfill our vast potential with the existing barriers to progress and growth. This year we will work to develop legislative solutions that create a stable, consistent legal environment that will ultimately open the doors of opportunity for all Missourians.

Tim Jones is Missouri speaker of the House and a managing member at a Chesterfield law firm.

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