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Missourians want legal reforms and lawmakers are working to deliver

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As lawmakers review proposals to bring about legal reform, a poll released on Feb. 1 shows strong support from Missouri voters.

“We hope legislators will take heed of this poll as they consider substantive legal reform bills currently moving through the Missouri General Assembly,” said Brian Bunten, general counsel and director of legislative affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Missourians want legal reform.”

That survey, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, found that more than three-quarters (79%) of Missouri voters think the number of lawsuits is a serious problem.

The poll also showed that support for legal reform is strong across all party affiliations. A strong majority of Republicans (89%), Independents (78%) and Democrats (70%) share the same view about lawsuits, with the majority of voters in every single region of Missouri saying the number of lawsuits is a serious problem.

“Legal reform is a big concern for our employer members,” Bunten said. “The survey revealed that two-thirds of Missouri voters believe that the primary beneficiary of the lawsuit system is lawyers and the majority feel that some state lawmakers value the views of trial attorneys more than small businesses.”

Bunten took the lead in testifying on several key legal reform bills that were presented to legislative committees this week.

Employment Law

Sen. Gary Romine presented Senate Bill 745 to the Senate Committee on Small Business, Insurance and Industry on Feb. 2. This legislation has been strongly supported by the Missouri General Assembly and has been delivered to the governor’s desk in previous sessions, only to be struck down by the governor’s veto. The legislation would return equity to Missouri’s discrimination law after years of erosion by unfair court decisions.

“All we are asking you to do is to align (Missouri) to the federal standards and the standard of the majority of states for discrimination cases,” Bunten testified.


Arbitration Agreements

During the same committee hearing, Sen. Romine presented a proposal to protect employers’ rights in arbitration agreements.  Missouri has gained an unflattering reputation as one of the most difficult states to enforce arbitration agreements. Senate Bill 746 is designed to change that trend.

“Missouri state courts truly are outliers,” said Janet Mark, associated general counsel for Hallmark Cards, Inc.  “They are unique and quite notorious for their hostility toward arbitration agreements between employers and employees. Over the past eight to ten years they have created an anti-business environment where they have eviscerated long-standing legal principals relating to contracts.”

Bunten also testified in support of SB 746 on behalf of Missouri Chamber members.


Litigation Lending

According to the US Chamber poll, three-quarters of Missouri voters also support a proposal to rein in lawsuit lending in the state. Two proposals to address this problem were presented to the Senate Committee on Progress and Development on Feb. 3.  The intent of the legislation is to rein in lawsuit lending in the state by placing reasonable limits on the amount of interest that lawsuit lenders (a growing industry of companies that advance money to a plaintiff in a lawsuit) can charge.

The Missouri Chamber testified in support of Senate Bill 785, sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia.

“This practice tends to extend the life of litigation, which drives up the cost of litigation and the number of lawsuits filed – all of which we believe is bad for business,” Bunten testified.

For more information on civil justice legislation, you can contact Bunten at bbunten@mochamber.com, or by phone at 573.634.3511.

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