Lawmakers Reject Proposed Pay Increase (HCR 4)
After several hours of discussion Monday evening, the Senate voted to join the House in rejecting proposed pay raises for elected officials and judges. The resolution approved by both chambers will prevent the pay increase recommendations made by the Citizens’ Commission on Compensation for Elected Officials from going into effect. Lawmakers gave bipartisan support to the measure as they noted it is not appropriate to use taxpayer dollars to increase their own pay. Members of the General Assembly have consistently voted every two years to reject proposals that increase their own pay. Lawmakers said it was even more important to reject an increase this year because of the state’s difficult budget situation. The measure now moves to the governor for his approval.
House Approves Collateral Source Reform Legislation (HB 95)
This week the Missouri House continued its work to improve the state’s legal climate in an effort to make the court system fair to all litigants, and to attract more job creators. As part of its tort reform package, the House approved legislation commonly referred to as collateral source reform.
The bill is meant to clarify that an injured person involved in a lawsuit can recover only the actual cost incurred for medical treatment. Specifically, the legislation would modify Missouri’s collateral source rule that currently prevents evidence from being admitted to show when a plaintiff’s losses have been compensated from other sources such as insurance or workers’ compensation.
Those who believe the collateral source rule needs to be reformed say the current system allows plaintiffs to make money by filing lawsuits for injuries that have already been covered by other sources. They say it allows individuals to recover damages or costs that were never incurred, while the intent of the law should be to make the plaintiff whole. Supporters also say the change would help Missouri shed its reputation as “judicial hellhole” and create a more business-friendly environment.
The change approved by the House clarifies that an injured person can recover the actual cost incurred for medical treatment rather than the inflated value of the treatment billed by a health care provider. Specifically, it allows evidence to be admitted in court showing the actual cost, rather than the value, of the medical care or treatment to the plaintiff.
The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration. The bill is similar to a measure approved by the General Assembly last year that was vetoed by the previous governor. Governor Greitens is expected to sign this year’s version of the bill into law if it receives approval from both chambers.
Expert Witness Legislation Receives House Approval (HB 153)
Continuing with its tort reform efforts, the House also gave approval this week to legislation meant to improve the reliability of expert evidence that is presented to juries in Missouri state courts. The bill would implement an established standard for determining when expert-witness testimony is admissible as evidence at trial.
The proposed standard, which is commonly referred to as the Daubert standard after a 1993 U.S. Supreme Court case, is used in federal courts and in more than two-thirds of the states. Under this standard, the trial judge acts as a gatekeeper to ensure that “expert” testimony is based on “sufficient facts or data” and is the product of “reliable principles and methods.” Currently in Missouri, judges admit expert testimony if it is based on facts that are “reasonably relied upon by experts in the field.”
Supporters of the change say the bill would ensure that testimony from someone designated by lawyers as an ‘expert’ can be relied upon by citizen jurors. They say the state should ensure that evidence presented in court is trustworthy and not just a product of how much a party can afford to pay a so-called expert to say whatever supports the party’s case.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
Missouri Set to Issue Assistant Physician Licenses
Members of the Missouri General Assembly passed legislation in 2014 to help address the health care needs of Missourians in medically underserved areas. Now, the state is set to take applications beginning January 31 for the newly-created assistant physician positions that are the first of their kind in the nation.
The assistant physician position is open to medical school graduates who have passed the first two rounds of licensing exams, but have not completed a residency program. As assistant physicians, they will be able to provide primary care services while under the supervision of another physician. Assistant physicians are allowed to enter a collaborative practice arrangement with a licensed physician in a medically underserved area. The arrangement will allow the assistant physician to gain knowledge and experience while giving people in rural areas additional access to care.
As the sponsor of the bill noted, “many doctors can begin working instead of waiting on a residency, and several underserved areas will have access to an assistant physician.”
While the legislation was approved in 2014, it took more than two years for the Missouri Board of Registration for the Healing Arts to create rules and regulations for the position. The board officially began taking applications Tuesday, January 31. Additional information is available online at http://pr.mo.gov/healingarts.asp.
Remembering and Honoring Missouri Veterans
Veterans who wish to share their stories are encouraged to make a trip to the State Capitol to participate in the Missouri Veterans History Project.
The MVHP is a not-for-profit corporation organized to interview and record the stories of Missouri’s veterans. The project collects first-hand recollections of their service to provide a richer and more personal context to historical accounts. The recordings are provided to the veteran free-of-charge and are archived and made available to scholars, students, veterans and the public through a partnership with the State Historical Society of Missouri, the Library of Congress and other organizations. The videotaped stories are archived by the Library of Congress and the state Historical Society of Missouri for future generations.
Videographers from the MVHP will be at the State Capitol in Room 426 on February 7th, 14th, 21st and 28th from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Veterans interested in having their experiences recorded should contact Mr. Kirk Klinger at 660-882-1274 to schedule a date and time. Each recording is expected to take approximately one hour to complete.
Raising Awareness of Teen Dating Violence
During the 2016 legislative session, the Missouri General Assembly approved legislation (SB 921) to designate February as “Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month” in the state of Missouri.
One in three teens in the United States will experience physical, sexual, or emotional abuse by someone with whom they are in a relationship before they become adults. Teens who experience dating violence are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, engage in unhealthy behaviors such as experimenting with tobacco, drugs and alcohol, and have thoughts about suicide, according to the CDC. The mental and physical health consequences can extend into adulthood, and unhealthy relationships in adolescence also can create a cycle of abusive relationships.
The awareness month encourages Missourians to participate in appropriate activities and events to raise awareness of abuse in teen relationships. Missouri is one of several states that have adopted teen dating violence awareness weeks or months in an effort to draw the public’s attention to a national campaign that promotes prevention, healthy relationships, and offers information and resources.