- Associated Press - Thursday, March 9, 2017

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - House members on Thursday passed legislation backers contend is aimed at stopping out-of-state plaintiffs from bringing lawsuits to the state in an attempt to get more favorable rulings, an effort opponents say will limit Missouri residents from banding together to fight back against deceptive or harmful business practices.

The House voted 100-54 in favor of the legislation, sending it to the Senate.

Lawmakers disagree about what the bill would do, but generally it would limit plaintiffs’ ability to combine lawsuits and require plaintiffs to individually establish the county or district where a case is held.

Backers, such as the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and American Tort Reform Association, argue that current law has allowed too many lawsuits to be brought in St. Louis with plaintiffs who don’t live in the state.

“St. Louis has become the nation’s courtroom,” said sponsor Rep. Glen Kolkmeyer. The Odessa Republican added that’s “overcrowding our dockets.”

He said if made law, his bill would clamp down on that.

But opposing lawmakers argued the legislation would limit Missouri residents from banding together to fight back against harmful business practices or careless individuals who hurt people.

“It takes away your right as a consumer to get redress when a bad businessman rips you off,” said Democratic Rep. Mark Ellebracht, a Liberty attorney.

Kolkmeyer’s measure is part of a broader push by Republican legislative leaders and GOP Gov. Eric Greitens to change how tort lawsuits are handled in Missouri. A tort is a legal term to describe wrongdoing, and those types of lawsuits can include sales of lemon cars and deceptive or shoddy products.

Ellebracht said Kolkmeyer’s bill would work with a measure from Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard that would overhaul a state consumer-protection law. That law is being used in a class-action lawsuit against the company of one of his largest donors, Joplin businessman David Humphreys of TAMKO Building Products, Inc. A Missouri church filed a class-action lawsuit in 2014 against the company, alleging TAMKO sold shoddy shingles.

Richard’s bill would limit plaintiffs’ ability to sue individually or in class-action lawsuits under the consumer-protection law.

“I don’t want to level any actual specific allegations, but this looks an awful lot like pay-to-play politics,” Ellebracht said.

When asked about Ellebracht’s comments, Richard said the House member should “kiss my a—.”

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