Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, completed his victory lap for his workers compensation reform bill May 26 during the last of four "Lunch and Learn' presentations for Associated Industries of Missouri.
Hunter's final presentation was held in Hannibal, following appearances May 17 in Springfield, May 18 in Joplin, May 19 in Kansas City, May 20 in Jefferson City, May 24 in St. Louis, and May 25 in Cape Girardeau.
The worker's compensation bill was a linchpin in a successful 2005 legislative session for Associated Industries, one that also saw passage of so-called tort reform bills and other bills designed to improve the state's appeal to business interests. Associated Industries is the main lobbying group for business interests in Missouri.
Take this passage from the organization's website: "Associated Industries of Missouri employs the largest and most experienced lobbying staff in the Capitol. They are respected for their knowledge and leadership in areas such as workers' compensation, health care, unemployment compensation, industrial relations, taxes, education, transportation, workforce development, environmental regulatory matters, and more."
The president of Associated Industries of Missouri and its chief lobbyist is former state representative Gary Marble, R-Neosho. The organization's other registered lobbyists, according to its website and to Missouri Ethics Commission records are Norb Plassmeyer and Jim Kistler.
You might think that with the amount of its legislative agenda that Associated Industries was able to pass that those must be the three hardest working lobbyists in Jefferson City. Maybe they are, but it helps to have a supportive state legislator like Steve Hunter.
Give Hunter credit. He filed the successful workmen's compensation legislation without receiving one cent from Associated Industries' lobbyists, according to Ethics Commission records.
Workmen's compensation and tort reform are not the only interests Associated Industries has. Consider this passage from the organization's website:
"Each session, Missouri business defines success by the key votes on legislation such as workers' compensation reform, health care cost containment, environmental regulation, taxes, unemployment compensation, and other labor-management issues."
In a flurry of activity on one day, Steve Hunter launched a broadside attack against organized labor in Missouri.
In the April 9 Turner Report, I wrote about the efforts of Hunter to destroy labor unions in the state. House Bill 876 would have required that unions disclose the following information: Assets, including cash, accounts receivable, loans receivable, U. S. Treasury securities, investments, and other assets; liabilities including accounts payable, loans payable, mortgages, and other liabilities; cash receipts from sources including dues, fees, sales, interest, rent, and dividends; cash disbursements including negotiation, administration, organization, lobbying, political, benefits, overhead, gifts and contributions, membership status including active, inactive, associate, apprentice, retired, and others. As I said on April 9, that bill smacked of 1950s McCarthyism.
House Bill 877 would have established "employee rights" according to the wording on the bill. It would have prohibited any requirements that people join unions, pay dues or fees to unions, and would eliminate any current agreements between unions and employers that violate those rights. This back-door approach would not only have made Missouri a right-to-work state (which does a lot for employers and not much for workers), but it would have enabled employers to get rid of contracts they have already signed, but do not like.
House Bill 878 would have required that no money be spent on political activities unless it comes "from a fund established for that purpose." As I said on April 9, under the provisions of that bill, unions would be required to notify members that they do not have to contribute and that nothing will happen to them if they do not. Of course, businesses would have been allowed to continue to contribute to any politicians or political causes they want to, especially to elected officials who continue to add to the businesses' profits by sponsoring this type of legislation.
Hunter sponsored all of these bills without receiving one dime from Associated Industries lobbyists.
He didn't need to receive any money from them...he is one of them.
Though he is not a registered lobbyist obviously, Steve Hunter is on the Associated Industries payroll. That fact is made clear on the Missouri House of Representatives website. On Hunter's member biography, it says, "In addition to his legislative duties, Rep. Hunter is a membership recruiter for Associated Industries of Missouri and works for an advertising company."
The dictionary definition of lobbyist is a person who "tries to influence public officials on behalf of or against proposed legislation." The worker's compensation and anti-union bills sponsored by Hunter are exactly the type of legislation that Associated Industries, one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the state, lobbies for state legislators to pass.
And Hunter, the paid representative of Associated Industries in the House, also serves as chairman of the powerful Workforce Development and Workplace Safety Committee, helping shape legislation that will benefit his employers, something that seems to be a clear conflict of interest.
Don't expect Hunter or his bosses to rest on their laurels. They will try to improve on their accomplishments during the 2006 legislative session. This is not just an educated guess. It says so on the Associated Industries website:
"Associated Industries of Missouri is going to use these reforms as a foundation for additional improvements. Additional changes may be necessary if Missouri continues to have unusually high attorney involvement. The state’s Second Injury Fund is also at risk of insolvency,which would prompt additional reforms next session."
Hunter already tried to address the Second Injury Fund question by sponsoring House Bill 908 which suggested suspending claims against the Second Injury Fund until everything is worked out with worker's compensation reform. That bill did not come up for a vote before the session ended.
But just in case you think that Hunter did not take care of his non-business constituents, as well as his employers, consider the mountain of legislation he sponsored during the recently-concluded session. In addition to the workmen's compensation law, the three anti-union bills, and the Second Injury Fund bill, Hunter sponsored TWO bills, neither of which went anywhere.
House Bill 471 would have established regulations for wholesale distribution of prescription drugs and House Bill 933 would have required gambling boats to put 25 cents out of each $2 admission fee into the Fire Education Fund.