Session Review: Business and Labor

Senators passed bills this session providing workplace protections for pregnant employees and changing workers’ compensation.

Employee benefits and wages

LB627, introduced by Omaha Sen. Heath Mello, extends to pregnant workers the same reasonable accommodation standard applied to individuals with disabilities. Reasonable accommodations with respect to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions for workers outlined in the bill include:
• modified duties and schedules;
• periodic rest and more breaks;
• equipment for sitting;
• time off to recover from childbirth; and
• break time and appropriate facilities for breast-feeding or expressing breast milk.

The bill also prohibits discrimination against an individual who is pregnant, has given birth or has a related medical condition in regard to job application procedures or the hiring, compensation, job training, advancement or discharge of employees.

LB627 passed on a 45-0 vote.

Following the approval of Initiative 425 by Nebraska voters in November 2014, the state’s minimum wage increased to $8 per hour this year and is set to increase again in 2016 to $9 per hour. The ballot initiative was the result of a successful petition drive that followed the 2014 Legislature’s rejection of a bill to increase the state’s minimum wage.

Introduced by Crete Sen. Laura Ebke, LB599 would permit employers to pay workers ages 18 and younger either $8 an hour or 85 percent of the federal minimum wage, whichever is higher, beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

No more than 25 percent of the worker’s total hours could be paid at the new rate. The bill would apply to employees age 18 and younger who do not have a high school diploma and have no dependent children.

The bill failed to pass on a 29-17 vote. Because LB599 would have amended a law enacted by voter initiative, it required at least 33 votes on final reading for passage.

LB494, introduced by Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha, would increase the tip earner wage from the current $2.13 to $3 per hour in 2015. For each year thereafter, it would increase by the lesser of 95 cents or the amount necessary to equal 50 percent of the regular minimum wage.

The bill remains on general file.

Workers’ compensation

Sponsored by Omaha Sen. Burke Harr, LB480 was amended to update workers’ compensation statutes and contains provisions of the following four bills.

Introduced by Omaha Sen. John McCollister, provisions of LB158 allow the denial of benefits if an employee knowingly and willfully made false statements regarding his or her physical or medical condition by acknowledging that he or she is able to perform the essential functions of a job based on the employer’s job description.

Provisions of Nordquist’s LB363 clarify that employees are not responsible for any finance charges or late penalty payments as a result of medical services rendered by a provider.

LB133, introduced by Ebke, revised the interest rate applicable to an award of workers’ compensation benefits in which an attorney’s fee is permitted by changing the rate from 14 percent to a rate calculation of 6 percentage points above the bond investment yield, as published by the U.S. secretary of the treasury.

Provisions of LB600, also introduced by Ebke, expand the authority to invest trust assets held in irrevocable workers’ compensation trusts to allow for investments in the same manner as corporate trustees holding retirement or pension funds for governmental employees. If the assets fall below the acceptable amount required by the compensation court, the trustor must deposit additional assets to continue to satisfy the minimum security amounts required. The provisions prohibit a trustee from investing assets into stocks, bonds or other obligations of the trustor.

Senators passed LB480 46-0.

State Claims

LB554, introduced by the Business and Labor Committee, approved $1.5 million in tort claims, $1.2 million in miscellaneous claims and $970,000 in write-offs for fiscal year 2013-14. The bill includes approval of $1 million in settlements for three of the six Nebraskans wrongly convicted for the 1985 murder of Helen Wilson in Beatrice.

The bill was part of the budget package and passed 49-0.

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