Firefighter and workers’ comp measures advanced

Nebraska would join a multistate group committed to fight forest fires under a bill amended and advanced from general file March 31.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, LB961 initially was drafted to give workers injured due to willful negligence of their employers the ability to seek damages outside of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act.

A Business and Labor Committee amendment, adopted 30-0, replaced the original bill with the provisions of three other bills.

LB820, introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis, would authorize the governor to make Nebraska a member of the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact. The compact currently includes South Dakota, North Dakota, Colorado and Wyoming and allows members to share in prevention, pre-suppression, management and control of fires.

LB895, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer, would ensure that the wage used to calculate workers’ compensation indemnity benefits for volunteer fire or emergency service personnel is 1.5 times the maximum state average weekly wage or wages from his or her regular employer, whichever is higher. The bill would provide that volunteer firefighters would not lose their volunteer status if they are paid a nominal fee.

LB951, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, would clarify that a lump sum settlement that is not required to be submitted for approval by the state Workers’ Compensation Court would be final and conclusive unless procured by fraud. The measure also would require that amounts to be paid by an employer to an employee pursuant to a release be paid within 30 days of filing the release with the court, with a 50 percent penalty to be added if not made within the 30-day period. Finally, the bill would require the court to enter an order dismissing the action with prejudice upon the employer making payment as required in a release.

Scheer said that current workers’ compensation rates for volunteer firefighters are not fair and make it difficult for smaller rural communities to find qualified people to serve. The provisions of LB895 would make those firefighting jobs more attractive, he said.

After approving a technical amendment offered by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop on a 30-0 vote, senators advanced the bill 30-0.

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