Nixon vetoes changes to workers’ compensation, proving workplace bias

Saying Missouri should “not move backward on protecting workers and civil rights,” Gov. Jay Nixon on Friday vetoed legislation that altered the state workers’ compensation system and another bill that made it more difficult to prove discrimination cases against former employers.

Both bills were high priorities for Republican lawmakers, and neither cleared the Missouri House with enough votes to override a veto.

Nixon’s veto of the workplace discrimination bill was not a surprise. The Democratic governor vetoed an almost identical bill last year. It would have required workers who claim discrimination in wrongful termination lawsuits to prove that bias was a “motivating” factor instead of a “contributing” factor, as required under current law.

Nixon said the bill would “undermine the Missouri Human Rights Act and decades of progress on civil rights.”

Meanwhile, the workers’ compensation changes would have taken “a step back in protecting workers who are afflicted with serious or deadly diseases,” the governor said.

The legislation would have moved occupational diseases — such as those caused by on-the-job exposure to chemicals and toxins — to the workers’ compensation system. Under current law, workers suffering from work-related occupational diseases can bring a civil lawsuit against an employer.

“Current law appropriately recognizes the severity and duration of these types of occupational diseases, which may take years or even decades to manifest themselves, by allowing affected workers broader redress through access to the civil justice system,” Nixon said in his veto letter.

Both bills were also priorities of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Chamber president Dan Mehan said Friday that Nixon’s actions “will benefit trial attorneys who make millions off of these types of cases.”

But Phil Hess, president of the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys, said it’s a “shame that the factions who tried to label these harmful bills as ‘pro-business’ will attack the governor for his courage.”

“Sometimes doing what is right for people, for their rights and for their futures, is not as easy as it seems,” Hess said. “Governor Nixon is not too friendly with us; he’s simply concerned about the rights of ordinary Missourians, people like our clients.”

But Dave Spence, one of the Republicans competing to challenge Nixon in this year’s elections, called the veto a “disgrace” and suggested the governor was protecting campaign donors. Spence said the legislation would have tightened an “arbitrary and inconsistent” definition in discrimination cases and ensured that the workers’ compensation system can deal with injured workers.

“These common sense reforms would have protected small business owners all across Missouri from more frivolous lawsuits and made Missouri a better place to create jobs,” Spence said.