Ten years is long enough: The Missouri House must move on employment law reform
By Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry
When discussing the current makeup of Missouri’s lawmaking apparatus, I often find myself speaking in astronomical terms. In a way, the election last year brought about a rare planetary alignment.
Missouri voters had chosen to send a staunchly pro-jobs governor to Jefferson City alongside record numbers of business-friendly legislators. For once, the state’s General Assembly and the executive branch had the same economic agenda. The sun and moon had aligned. It was almost like this summer’s total eclipse had arrived early.
As someone who cares deeply about the future of Missouri’s economy, it was suddenly clear that this was our moment to make a difference. We could finally pass important legislation like right-to-work. We could put in place reforms to improve our state’s workforce. We could fix Missouri’s legal climate, ending our status as sanctuary state for trial attorneys and outrageous lawsuits.
With only days remaining in the legislative session, we’ve seen progress on some of these issues. But many important bills remain undone — with most of them stuck in a futile stalemate that’s halted most work in the Missouri Senate.
However, the most important legal reform still waiting for passage has been sitting for weeks in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Senate Bill 43 is a long-awaited response to a series of Supreme Court rulings culminating in a 2007 decision that lowered the bar in employment discrimination cases and opened the door to frivolous lawsuits against our businesses. The court-constructed standard has made Missouri one of the easiest places in the country to sue a company and win. Trial lawyers know this and they’ve spent the last decade exploiting this situation.
For 10 years now, businesses have operated under the fear of litigation. The employment law standard in Missouri is so low that most companies would rather settle frivolous lawsuits rather than defend themselves in court. Understandably, this has forced businesses into a defensive posture and their ability to make necessary personnel decisions to fix workplace problems has been stunted.
This situation has contributed greatly to our state’s recurring status a “Judicial Hellhole” according to the American Tort Reform Association and our low standing — 42nd in the nation — in the Institute for Legal Reform’s annual legal climate rankings.
This has hurt our state’s ability to attract investment and business expansion opportunities.
The Missouri House could fix this with one vote, passing Senate Bill 43.
I understand that this is not an easy issue. It deals directly with the ugly act of discrimination in the workplace. Discrimination should never be tolerated and employers who discriminate would continue to be held accountable under Senate Bill 43.
But with only days remaining until the legislature adjourns, the window to pass this bill is closing. The only hope for Senate Bill 43 is for it to pass the House with no amendments, sending it directly to the governor’s desk. A single amendment would place it back in the hands of the Senate, where Senate dysfunction would certainly kill any chance for passage.
So on behalf of the state’s business community, I’d like to tell the Missouri House that ten years of frivolous litigation is enough. Just two years ago, the Missouri House voted in support of similar legislation. The entire General Assembly passed bills to address this problem in 2011 and 2012, but neither ultimately became law.
The opportunity this year is a rare one. Missouri House, please pass Senate Bill 43 and fix our employment law. If we fail to act now, who knows when the planets will align again?