Workers’ comp, firefighting compact bill amended, advanced

Lawmakers amended and advanced a bill from select file April 8 that would affect workers’ compensation and other policies.

LB961, as introduced by Omaha Sen. Tanya Cook, originally would have enabled workers injured due to willful negligence of their employers to seek damages outside of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Act. Numerous other bills replaced the original bill.

An amendment brought April 8 by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, adopted 27-0, included provisions of two of his bills.

LB373 would amend the Nebraska Construction Prompt Pay Act to:
• define “substantially complete” to reflect the definition used by the American Institute of Architects;
• establish a maximum cap on the retainage amount at 10 percent and, once a project is 50 percent complete, retainage would be capped at 5 percent;
• require the owner or owner’s representative to pay the retainage to the contractor within 45 days of substantial completion, after which the contractor must pay subcontractors within 10 days;
• allow builders and subcontractors to receive attorney fees and costs if awarded damages; and
• clarify that contractors are exempt from the act when performing work on a contract for the state or when performing work on a federal-aid or state-aid project of a political subdivision in which the state makes payments to the contractor on behalf of the political subdivision.

LB559 would allow employers to establish a short-time compensation plan, which would temporarily provide unemployment benefits to eligible employees. Employers that provide health and retirement benefits to eligible employees would be required to continue offering the benefits under the plan. Additionally, employers would be prohibited from hiring additional staff while the plan is in effect.

The plan would need approval by the state commissioner of labor and detail the number of employees affected by the plan, work hours of each affected employee and the number of employees who would have been laid off. Benefits paid under the bill would not be chargeable to employer accounts. Additionally, employers would not be responsible for reimbursing the Unemployment Compensation Fund for any benefits paid under a short-time compensation plan.

The bill was amended on general file to include provisions of three other bills:
• LB820, which would authorize the governor to make Nebraska a member of the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact;
• LB895, which 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; and
• LB951, which would clarify that a lump sum settlement that is not required to be submitted for approval by the state Workers’ Compensation Court shall be final and conclusive unless procured by fraud.

After adopting a technical amendment on a 30-0 vote, senators advanced the bill to final reading on a voice vote.

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