Session Review: Business and Labor

Family medical leave, minimum wages and protection from wage theft were some of the business and labor issues addressed by senators this session.

Employee wages

Senators rejected a measure to increase the minimum wage in Nebraska. Introduced by Omaha Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, LB943 would have increased the minimum wage for all workers incrementally from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 by 2017.

A Business and Labor Committee amendment would have added provisions of LB947, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop. The amendment proposed an increase of the tip earner minimum wage from $2.13 to $3.00 in 2014. In each year thereafter, the amendment proposed an increase of the lesser of 95 cents or the amount necessary to equal 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

The bill failed to advance to select file on a 20-20 vote.

A bill involving wage theft was passed this session.

LB560, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, authorizes the state Commissioner of Labor to investigate and enforce the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act. The commissioner may subpoena records and witnesses related to an investigation. Violators will be issued a citation and may incur a fine of up to $500 for a first offense and up to $5,000 for subsequent offenses.

Provisions of LB903, sponsored by Lathrop, were added to the bill by a committee amendment. These require an employer to deliver or make available to each employee, on each regular payday, a statement of hours worked, wages earned and deductions made. An employer is not required to provide the information for employees who are exempt from overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The bill passed on a 42-0 vote.

Workers’ compensation and benefits

Lawmakers passed a bill that affects workers’ compensation and unemployment benefits.

LB961, 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.

Several bills were amended into the bill, replacing the original provisions.

LB895, introduced by Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer, ensures 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.

LB951, introduced by Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh, clarifies 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.

LB559, introduced by Mello, allows employers to establish a short-time compensation plan, which temporarily provides unemployment benefits to eligible employees. Health and retirement benefits must be continued under the plan and employers are prohibited from hiring additional staff while the plan is in effect.

LB373, introduced by Mello, amends the Nebraska Construction Prompt Pay Act to establish a maximum cap on the retainage amount at 10 percent and, once the project is 50 percent complete, caps retainage at 5 percent. The bill requires 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.

Finally, LB820, introduced by Hyannis Sen. Al Davis, authorizes the governor to make Nebraska a member of the Great Plains Interstate Fire Compact.

Senators passed the bill on a 47-0 vote.

Two bills concerning family and sick leave were held in committee.

LB955, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, would have adopted the Paid Family Medical Leave Act, providing income for employees if they must leave work to care for family members who are incapable of caring for themselves. The bill would have provided eligible employees up to six consecutive workweeks—or up to 42 nonconsecutive days per year—of paid leave. The leave was to be provided by employee contributions collected as payroll deductions.

LB1090, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, would have required certain employers to provide full-time employees at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked up to a maximum of 40 hours in a calendar year.

Business incentives

LB800, introduced by Mello, reauthorizes and updates the Enterprise Zone Act.

Under the bill, the state Department of Economic Development will designate five areas as enterprise zones, with no more than one zone in a city of the metropolitan class and no more than one zone in a city of the primary class.

An enterprise zone will be required to meet two of the following criteria:
• the area’s population has decreased by 10 percent;
• the average unemployment is at least 200 percent of the state average; or
• the average poverty rate exceeds 20 percent for the total federal census tract.

Projects located within a designated enterprise zone will be given preference for various business incentive and grant programs. Enterprise zone designations will last for 10 years and projects within the zones will receive preference for funding from the Job Training Cash Fund, Business Innovation Act and Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

The bill passed on a 49-0 vote.

The committee held a bill proposing employer incentives to hire veterans.

LB1083, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Tommy Garrett, would have increased the maximum amount of job training grants for employers who hire recently separated veterans. Employers would have received an additional $2,500 or $5,000 to train each recently separated veteran.

The provisions of LB932, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, were incorporated into LB907, which passed 46-0 and made numerous changes to Nebraska’s prisoner rehabilitation program. The provisions prohibit the state from asking job applicants to disclose their criminal history until the applicant has been determined to meet the minimum employment qualifications. Law enforcement agencies are exempt from the restriction, as are school districts when the criminal record relates to sexual or physical abuse.

Finally, LB949, introduced by the Business and Labor Committee, approved claims against the state and agency write-offs. The bill includes approval of a $2 million claim made by the family of Joyce Meeks, who was killed in a vehicle accident by an inmate authorized to drive a state vehicle in Lincoln.

The bill was part of the budget package and passed 48-0.

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