Missouri must get a much better handle on how much it pays each year to settle lawsuits for discrimination, wrongful death and a list of other infractions.
It should also crack down on discrimination in the workplace.
Those are two obvious conclusions from an audit released this week by Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway. The state’s Legal Expense Fund, she found, has paid out more than $24 million in fiscal year 2017 to address and settle legal claims against the state.
Over the last six years, Galloway says, Legal Expense Fund spending has cost taxpayers more than $79 million.
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That isn’t the only money taxpayers are spending on claims against the state, however. Other budgets in addition to the Legal Expense Fund provided cash to pay another $36.8 million in claims between January 2015 and March of this year, auditors found.
The state lacks adequate software to track these expenses, the audit says. Because payouts are so volatile — some years are far worse than others — the General Assembly and the executive branch can lose track of how much is being spent to settle lawsuits.
And that makes it harder for the state to see early warning signs of agency-based problems that can lead to additional lawsuits, which cost taxpayers more money.
Excessive legal expenses are unacceptable in a state that claims it is strapped for cash.
With earlier identification of problem areas, “agencies may be able to reduce the number of such future cases,” auditors said.
That appears to be particularly important in cases involving employment discrimination. Since July 2011, the state has paid claims in 11 “large” employment discrimination lawsuits, costing more than $9.6 million.
Missourians should be particularly outraged by these claims.
The state must work hard to avoid traffic accidents or on-the-job mishaps that can lead to court cases, but some accidents are probably unavoidable.
Workplace discrimination is another matter. There can be no excuse for hostile work environments or discrimination in hiring and promotion in any state agency.
In their responses, the Missouri Office of Risk Management and the Attorney General’s office promised to keep a closer eye on legal payouts.
That’s a good start. But more must be done: The governor’s office and the General Assembly must use the data to cut down on legal costs for taxpayers. That means avoiding accidents involving state workers and ending discriminatory behavior in the front office.