NFIB/Nebraska State Director Bob Hallstrom reports from the State Capitol on the legislative week ending March 11, 2016
Lawmakers commenced full-day sessions of floor debate to begin the week, having completed all committee hearings. The pace of the Legislature picked up as the body processed a number of priority bills, with few filibusters being waged.
When the Legislature convenes March 15, deliberations will begin on the budget bills (Legislative Bill 956 and Legislative Bill 957) and the Transportation Infrastructure Bank (Legislative Bill 960).
Direct Primary Care Bill Advances
Legislative Bill 817 – Direct Primary Care Agreements: LB 817 was advanced to Select File earlier this week. Introduced by Sen. Merv Riepe (Ralston), the measure would allow small businesses to contract with a primary care physician and pay a manageable monthly fee to provide primary care services to employees. These contracts would be supplemented with a “wrap around” insurance policy that provides catastrophic coverage for employees who have major medical emergencies. The legislation should result in cost savings for small business that would otherwise go toward more costly traditional health insurance policies. (NFIB Position – Support)
Cost-Saving UI Bill Moved to Floor
Legislative Bill 841 – Unemployment Insurance: The Business and Labor Committee has advanced LB 841 to General File. Introduced by Sen. Dave Bloomfield (Hoskins), LB 841 would change provisions relating to maximum annual benefits and disqualification for benefits under the Employment Security Law. The bill would address habitual abusers of the unemployment insurance program and is estimated to save employers between $2.75 million and $7.5 million annually. (NFIB Position – Support)
Business and Labor Committee Cleans House
The Business and Labor Committee acted to indefinitely postpone each of the 26 bills remaining in committee. None of the bills had been prioritized and were unlikely to receive further consideration this session. Among the workers’ compensation bills supported by NFIB that were killed by the Committee during the past week were:
Legislative Bill 134 – Workers’ Compensation–Confidentiality of First Injury Reports: Sen. Jerry Johnson (Wahoo) is the sponsor of LB 134, which would have made first injury reports relating to workplace injuries confidential, unless the employee waives confidentiality to allow the report to be made available for public inspection.
Legislative Bill 1001 – Workers’ Compensation/Scheduled Member Injuries: Introduced by Sen. Laura Ebke (Crete), LB 1001 would have provided definitions for loss or loss of use (permanent loss of physical function) and “member” (an arm, leg, ear, eye, or a nose) for purposes of loss of earning capacity determination when there is a loss or loss of use of more than one member or parts of more than one member.
Legislative Bill 1005 – Workers’ Compensation/Evidenced-Based Drug Formulary: LB 1005, introduced by Sen. Burke Harr (Omaha), would have established an evidence-based drug formulary consisting of Schedule II, III, IV and V prescription drugs in connection with workers compensation claims with a date of injury on or after January 1, 2017.
Workers compensation legislation that was opposed by NFIB and killed by the Committee included:
Legislative Bill 388 – Workers’ Compensation – Total Disability Benefits: Sen. Matt Hansen (Lincoln) introduced legislation (LB 388) that would have provided annual adjustments for total disability benefits in a proportion equal to annual increases resulting from the determination of the state’s average weekly wage.
Legislative Bill 556 – Workers’ Compensation – Exclusive Remedy: LB 556, introduced by Sen. Rick Kolowski (Omaha), would have waived workers’ compensation as the exclusive remedy if an employer is guilty of willful negligence. The measure would have also deemed a finding by the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court that an employee has been injured by reason of the willful negligence of the employer to be determinative and binding on the parties in any subsequent action for damages at law.
Legislative Bill 743 – Workers’ Compensation Act – Shoulder Injuries: Introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen (Lincoln), the measure would have provided that loss of an arm does not include injuries to the shoulder regardless of the location of residual impairment, with injuries to the shoulder to be compensated pursuant to the total and partial disability provisions of the Workers’ Compensation Act, rather than as a scheduled member injury.
Other Bills Opposed by NFIB Killed
The Business and Labor Committee also indefinitely postponed the following bills that were opposed by NFIB:
Legislative Bill 850 – Family and Medical Leave Act: Introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford (Bellevue), LB 850 would have established a statewide paid family medical leave insurance program similar to Nebraska’s unemployment insurance system and managed by the state Department of Labor, applicable to all employers subject to the Employment Security Act (1 or more employees).
Under the measure, funding would have been provided for the program through a payroll tax of up to 1.5 percent of payroll as determined by the Commissioner of Labor. Employees would have been entitled to partial wage reimbursement when taking leave to care for family members or because of their own health problems, with payments to be capped at eight weeks if the employee is caring for others, or 12 weeks if the employee has health problems or is a new mother. The bill would have required employers to pay all other benefits that are due to the employee that would have been paid in the absence of leave, as well as all other benefits offered to the employee (vacation, sick leave, etc.) and would require employers to allow employees to return to their jobs after exercising their right to family medical leave.
Legislative Bill 1089 – Minimum Wage for Tipped Employees: Introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen (Lincoln), LB 1089 would have increased the tipped minimum age from $2.13 per hour to $3.60 per hour in August 2016 and to $4.50 per hour in August 2017.
Past Reports and Related Stories
(Tile photo: Sen. Dave Bloomfield, courtesy of the Nebraska Unicameral Information Office)