Employers won a victory over trial attorneys as the Missouri General Assembly voted to override Gov. Nixon’s veto of House Bill 650 on Wednesday.
One of the key benefits of House Bill 650 for Missouri employers is a provision that would provide successor liability tort reform by capping punitive damages that can be assessed against employers from actions of previous business owners.
“This provision is aimed at providing common-sense protections for employers in particular the mining industry, which provides thousands of Missouri jobs and significant revenue to our state,” said Daniel P. Mehan, Missouri Chamber president and CEO. “Lawmakers showed Missouri employers that they believe that jobs are more important than trial attorneys’ profits. We are grateful for this vote.”
The legislation was critical for the Doe Run Company, the largest lead producer in the Western Hemisphere, which is based in St. Louis and operates a large mine in St. Francois County.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry (www.mochamber.com) was founded in 1923 and is the largest business organization in Missouri, representing almost 3,000 employers, providing more than 425,000 jobs for Missourians.
My Fellow Missourians,
The Missouri General Assembly had a historic veto session this year. When the dust finally settled we overrode a record number of vetoed bills-10 in total. A look back at the history of Missouri only goes to further illustrate the significance of overriding 10 vetoes. In fact, from 1855 till 1976 there were no vetoes overridden. And since 1976 until this year there have been only eight overridden vetoes. Governor Nixon is, in fact, the most overridden governor in the history of Missouri. No small feat considering Missouri was founded as a state in 1821 and has had a total of 55 governors.
Gov. Nixon made the decision in June to withhold more than $400 million from the state budget approved by lawmakers, even though the funds were available as Missouri ended its fiscal year with a surplus. This figure included $66.4 million in funding for K-12 education, $33.7 million for higher education, $45.7 million for Medicaid provider rate increases and mental health services. This past Thursday he released those funds while still withholding $185 million that was part of HB 19, an appropriations bill that was to be used for maintenance and repairs on state buildings. The surplus funds still remain in limbo as the governor continues to play games with the operating budget.
Overview of 5 of the 10 Vetoed Bills These pieces of legislation will go into effect and become Missouri Law in 30 days:
HB 19 (Appropriations Bill) We overrode the governor’s line item veto in HB 19 to authorize the appropriation of $1 million for the reconstruction of the Pike-Lincoln Technical Center in Northeast Missouri that was gutted by a fire in 2011. The facility provides critical vocational-technical services to the young people and adults who are trying to obtain the skills necessary to land the jobs of today and tomorrow. While the facility was insured, it does not have the financial resources to repair and construct facilities to serve the needs of the many people in the area who want vo-tech training. Specifically, the bill will help provide the additional funding to equip the building with computers and to make it accessible to people with disabilities. We believe in training our young people for the jobs they will need to sustain and support a family and for that reason we overrode the governor’s veto in a bipartisan fashion to appropriate this money for an extremely worthy cause.
HB278 (Federal Holidays Bill) The legislature came together to stand in defense of our rights to publicly celebrate federal holidays such as Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas by overriding the governor’s veto of HB 278. It’s unfortunate that we have reached the point where legislation is necessary to protect these rights, but we have seen in recent years a continued assault on the public celebration of Christmas and other holidays. In fact, some parents have dealt with situations where their children are prohibited from singing Christmas carols at school. We passed HB 278 during the regular session to defend our rights to celebrate these holidays openly. The bill makes it clear that any state or local governmental entity, public building, park, school, or public setting or place is not allowed to ban or restrict the practice, mention, celebration, or discussion of any federal holiday. It is a change to our state statutes that would protect everyone’s right to practice a federally deemed holiday in a public place.
HB 339 (Auto Insurance Reform Bill) By overriding the veto on HB 339 we sent a strong message to Missourians that they should abide by our laws and obtain automobile insurance before getting behind the wheel. Right now we know some 22 percent of Missouri drivers are uninsured. Under this bill, drivers who lack insurance will give up their ability to sue and collect for non-economic damages in an accident that involves an insured driver even if the insured driver is at fault.
HB650 (Tort Reform Bill) We overrode the governor’s veto of HB 650 to protect more than 1,500 family-supporting jobs right here in Missouri. Right now the Doe Run Company is exposed to heavy liability because of a large number of lawsuits that were filed in 2005 before a law capping punitive damages in all lawsuits took effect. Keep in mind, the company did not mine the property it currently owns, which ceased mining activity prior to 1975, and instead inherited this problem.
The bill we approved bars awards of punitive damages related to property where mining ceased before 1975 if the owner can show “good faith” efforts to clean it up. It also caps punitive damage awards at $2.5 million. By protecting this important Missouri business we can save vital jobs that would otherwise be lost and preserve a company that supplies the majority of lead in the United States. Doe Run has worked in good faith to remediate this issue since it obtained the property in 1994.
Agriculture Omnibus Bill (SB 9) The legislature overrode the governor’s veto on a bill that protects our state’s number one industry – agriculture. The animal trespass portion of this bill provides a much-needed correction to the current animal abuse and neglect law. Currently under Missouri law, a livestock owner can receive a hefty fine or even imprisonment because their livestock got out of their confines just one time. It doesn’t matter if the animal is out for 12 hours or 10 minutes. Animal abuse and neglect should not be taken lightly, but we need to ensure that the law does not make criminals out of farmers and ranchers that have animals break through a fence due to fallen trees, fences cut by hunters, gates left open, or an out-of-control motor vehicle. The bill we passed will give livestock owners a reasonable amount of time to get their animals back under control and allow the state to avoid needlessly punishing responsible animal owners.
In addition, the bill places harsher penalties on cattle rustling and cattle theft. This is not at all the same as stealing an object. It is even more than stealing someone’s livelihood. Stealing cattle is animal abuse at its worst. Instead of criminalizing stockmen for cattle getting out because a tree fell or a creek bed went dry, let’s punish people who have no regard for animal care or for the livelihood of Missouri’s farmers and ranchers. If a cattle rustler is facing a felony instead of a misdemeanor and looking at 5 to 15 years in prison, they might think twice before dragging a $300 newborn calf under a fence or backing a stock trailer up to a corral and loading 20 head of $800 a head feeder calves.
In addition, the governor vetoed SB 9 in part because of his concerns with a provision regarding foreign ownership of Missouri agricultural land. Right now our state prohibits foreign ownership of farmland due to a law passed in 1977. However, since 1977 we have seen about 7/10 of one percent of Missouri farmland owned by those from outside our country. This is due to them finding a way around our current law. SB 9 is meant to grandfather in some of the foreign individuals and entities who already own Missouri land and have been responsible and productive in doing so. It also gives some teeth to our laws on this issue by giving the Director of Agriculture some say in future purchases of our land, and by putting a cap of one percent on agriculture land in Missouri.
Volunteer Health Services Act (SB129) By overriding the governor’s veto of SB 129 and placing the bill into law, we will eliminate an enormous barrier that has prevented many health care professionals from volunteering their services in times of need. The threat of litigation and the need for expensive medical malpractice insurance have prevented many capable health care professionals from providing their services during emergencies. This bill is designed to ensure Missourians continue to receive quality care, and that health care practitioners are not subjected to overly burdensome regulations or frivolous litigation.
The bill will exempt a volunteer health care provider from civil liability unless they exhibit gross negligence or willful misconduct in providing their services. The bill also will allow health care professionals to provide services within their scope of practice without the need for additional licensing or certification.
The legislature fell short in its efforts to override the governor’s veto of HB 253, the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, Tax Amnesty, Community Development District Tax, Income and Corporate Tax Reform bill and HB 436 the Second Amendment Preservation Act, but the House and Senate were able to put several other bills of substance on the path to becoming law. Three of those bills have to do with Tort Reform and were strongly opposed by all of the trial attorneys that are in the Legislature. It is very obvious that trial attorneys stick together like glue [regardless of which political party they belong to] when it comes to limiting their ability to file law suits for unreasonable settlements.
The General Assembly is now adjourned until we reconvene for Regular Session on Jan. 8, 2014. I expect when we come back there will be another attempt to pass some sort of tax cut bill and probably another go at making certain that Missouri’s citizens get to keep their Second Amendment Rights without fear of them being trampled by the Federal Government. If you have questions, suggestions, or advice I look forward to hearing from you.
If you would like to be added to the e-mail list to receive our Capitol Reports, you can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Capitol office at 573-751-4065.
Please contact me at: 201 West Capitol Avenue, Room 201-A, Jefferson City, MO 65101-6806. Phone: 573-751-4065. Email: email@example.com.
Warren D. Love, State Representative
Representing the good people of the 125th District