Workplace discrimination bill blocked in Senate
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Workplace discrimination bill blocked in Senate

Date: January 23, 2012
By: Matthew Patane
State Capitol Bureau
Links: HB 1219, SB 592

JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate failed to take action Monday on a bill limiting protections for employees who file discrimination complaints. A Democrat-led debate kept the chamber from voting on the proposal.

The legislation limits protection employees receive after filing a discrimination complaint by placing a cap on punitive damages. The bill requires illegal discrimination to be a motivating factor, instead of a contributing one for termination of employment. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, said he is trying to codify public statute on discrimination law and put responsibility for the law back into legislative hands.

"Policy is decided by the legislative branch, not by the courts," Lager said. "This legislation brings Missouri back into compliance with federal law."

Lager proposed a similar bill during the last legislative session, which passed easily in both the House and Senate but was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon. The senator said he reintroduced the issue this session because it is a priority that the governor cannot just ignore.

"If we are really serious about growing jobs in the state then we have to change the environment we are in," Lager said. "Just because you ignore the problem, doesn't mean it goes away."

Despite its relatively quick passage through committee, the bill faced opposition from Democrats concerned about the affect of limiting damages on business accountability. Minority Floor Leader Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Jackson County, called the refiling of the bill a "dumb act" since it was already vetoed during the last session.

Lager said he tried to speak with Nixon on the legislation but the governor has been "completely absent" from the process so far.

"These are real issues," Lager said. "These are issues that are going to come back every year so let's get them resolved now...but we are not even having that dialogue right now."

President Pro Tem Sen. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said he spoke with the governor who said he had not ruled out compromising on the bill. Mayer said the Senate will continue discussion on the proposal during its session Tuesday morning.

Earlier in the day, the House Workforce Committee passed the lower chamber's version of the legislation with a party line vote, with all Democrats present voting against. The House's bill awaits a vote in the House Rules Committee before going before the House floor.

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