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With Gov. Greitens’ signature, Missouri set to tighten expert-witness rules

Gov. Eric Greitens signs into law a bill requiring stricter standards for expert witnesses in Missouri on March 28, 2017.
Marshall Griffin | St. Louis Public Radio

Updated 4:40 p.m. April 12 to correct headline — The latest bill to receive Gov. Eric Greitens’ signature is another priority for Republicans: tightening rules on who can be called as an expert witness.

He signed House Bill 153 into law Tuesday, a month and a half after he used his State of the State address to call Missouri and St. Louis in particular, a “judicial hellhole.”

The new standards, touted by Republicans as business-friendly, will take effect Aug. 28. They require testimony to be based on sufficient facts and reliable principles, instead of generally accepted opinions within the scientific community.

“When crooked trial lawyers bring in shady witnesses that act as experts while peddling junk science, it makes it harder for justice to be done,” Greitens said during the bill-signing ceremony. “That scares away businesses, it means fewer jobs and smaller paychecks. Today, we’ve made it clear that Missouri is open for business.”

But opponents say the law will make it harder for trial attorneys to find expert witnesses and, in turn, drive up costs.

State Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, argued this month during floor debate that juries don’t always buy so-called junk science.

“More often than not, when you have a shoddy expert witness who takes the stand, the other side gets to shred them … it helps to have a third-rate expert witness testifying against your client, because it makes you look like you’re the side with credibility in your corner,” Sifton said.

Midland Transports, a garage that services 18-wheelers in Jefferson City, served as the backdrop for the bill signing. It’s run by Tom Kolb, who was sued over an accident involving one of his trucks in 2001. Although an expert witness was not called to testify in the case, Kolb objected to the case being heard in St. Louis instead of Franklin County, where the accident happened.

“Anything to clean up cases going against business or industry and being extorted for monies (is good),” he said. “Sometimes these cases are stretched into the millions of dollars.”

Ken Barnes with the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys criticized the new law.

“I’m disappointed in the legislature passing this legislation. It does nothing but increase costs, increase the time to get a case through the court system, and does nothing to improve the quality of the experts who are admitted to testify,” he said in a statement. Barnes added that he’s not aware of any plans to sue the state over the new law.

The other major bill that Greitens has signed into law makes Missouri the 28th right-to-work state, meaning unions cannot require dues from employees who are not union members. It goes into effect in August as well. 

Greitens takes questions

Greitens broke from usual protocol Tuesday and allowed the media to ask questions after the bill signing.

When it comes to the federal Real ID act, which Missouri lawmakers are debating this session, the governor said people should have the option of getting identification cards that allow them to enter airports and military bases, but that he wants to see if the Trump administration will intervene. Greitens said that during his trip to Washington over the weekend, he spoke with officials who said that the White House might act so that Missouri doesn’t have to undo a state law that prohibits being in compliance with the Real ID act.

He also said he remains opposed to expanding Medicaid in Missouri, a question that follows on the heels of Congress’ attempt to overhaul the Obama administration’s federal health care law. Greitens was among the Republican governors who wrote to congressional leaders in support of House Majority Leader Paul Ryan’s plan to change health care, and said he still supports repealing and replacing the federal Affordable Care Act. Neighboring Kansas, which has a Republican-majority legislature, sent its governor a bill to expand Medicaid on Tuesday.

Other legislative actions 

The House gave first-round approval to a bill that would overturn a St. Louis ordinance seeking to protect women who have abortions from workplace discrimination. The bill needs a second vote to go to the Senate.

The House also took a first vote on repealing “prevailing wage” requirements for public construction projects. It needs one more vote to go to the Senate.

The Associated Press contributed.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter: @MarshallGReport

Marshal was a political reporter for St. Louis Public Radio until 2018.