Hearings Begin on Second Injury Fund

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JEFFERSON CITY - Tens of thousands of injured workers' claims hung in the balance Tuesday as a senate committee began hearings on changes to the state's troubled Second Injury Fund.

The hearing comes on the same day that the Western District Court of Appeals referred a case to the state supreme court involving a worker who cannot be compensated by the Fund because the funding to do so does not exist. The case, Skirvin v. Tresurer State of Missouri et al., asks whether the state should pay its Second Injury Fund obligations from the state general fund.

Joan Gummels, Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster's legislative director, said the state's court system has a backlog of more than 30,000 injured workers since the attorney general's office stopped settling cases in 2009. The attorney general's office did this to buy the legislature more time to fix the fund. Gummels said the attorney general's position is the Second Injury Fund is not a state liability issue.

Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, said his bill picks up where negotiations last year left off. Currently, a 3 percent surcharge paid by employers funds the Second Injury Fund, which is designed to help workers when a current work-related injury aggravates a prior disability. Rupp said his bill would increase that surcharge to 4.5 percent, with the option to further increase the surcharge to as much as 5 percent before returning to a 3 percent surcharge after 2020.

Representatives from numerous groups ranging from the AFL-CIO to the National Federation of Independent Businesses spoke on the problems facing the fund. Virtually all of them said they supported the idea of an increased business surcharge. AFL-CIO counsel John Boyd spoke against the bill, but he said the union agreed with it in principle and was willing to work with proponents to find solutions that protected workers.