Secrest out as Missouri workers' compensation director

Friday, June 8, 2007

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- The director of the state Workers' Compensation Division said Friday that she was forced to resign, though she believes she had "done a terrific job."

Pat Secrest submitted her resignation Thursday, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations said.

But "it was not my idea" to leave, Secrest told The Associated Press on Friday.

Secrest, 52, of suburban St. Louis, declined to elaborate on a reason for her departure.

"I'm leaving simply because you serve at the pleasure of the governor; I'm just leaving," she said.

Gov. Matt Blunt named Secrest as director in January 2005. A spokeswoman for the governor did not immediately return a telephone call Friday.

Secrest served from 1991-2003 in the state House, where Blunt said at the time of her appointment that she had "become an authority" on workers' compensation. Secrest lost the Republican primary for lieutenant governor in August 2004.

Shortly after she became division director, Blunt and the Republican-led Legislature enacted an overhaul of Missouri's workers' compensation laws that made it harder to prove injuries are work-related. For example, the law required work to be the "prevailing factor" to be compensated for an injury, instead of the previous standard of a "substantial factor." Supporters hoped the new restrictions would help lower insurance premiums paid by businesses.

More recently, Blunt asked the Division of Workers' Compensation to conduct its own review of a state fund that pays disabled workers who suffer further on-the-job injuries. The Republican governor cited his displeasure with the conclusions of a report by Democratic State Auditor Susan Montee, who said the fund would run out of money during 2008.

Montee asserted the 2005 law, which capped employer contributions to the fund, was partly to blame for the cash shortage. But Blunt directed the division to determine why payouts from the fund have increased in recent years, from $29 million in 2000 to $64 million in 2006.

Secrest said her displacement as director came as a surprise.

"I thought I was doing a terrific job, and I enjoyed it very much and I thought we were having lots of success," she said.

By Friday, the department's Internet site already had Secrest's name removed as the division director. Lucas Boling, the division's deputy director, was named acting director.

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