Session Review: Business and Labor

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/bui' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of the Business and Labor Committee'>Business and Labor Committee</a> chairperson <a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist17' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Joni Albrecht'>Sen. Joni Albrecht</a>
Business and Labor Committee chairperson Sen. Joni Albrecht

Law enforcement transparency, workers’ compensation settlements and workforce development training were among the employment issues addressed by legislators this session.

A bill that eliminates certain conflicts of interest and provides accountability and transparency in Nebraska State Patrol investigations was passed by lawmakers.

LB791, introduced by Crete Sen. Laura Ebke, includes provisions of her LB792. As amended, the bill requires law enforcement agencies to keep records of certain misconduct and document the reason for and circumstances surrounding an officer’s separation of service from that agency.

Additionally, agencies will be required to submit a report to the Nebraska Crime Commission if an officer is terminated from employment or allowed to resign in lieu of termination for conduct that constitutes incompetence, neglect of duty, incapacity, dishonesty, a guilty plea to a felony charge, a felony conviction or another violation of the officer’s oath of office, code of ethics or statutory duties.

A law enforcement officer will be required to sign a waiver upon application for employment with a new agency that allows the prospective employer to contact the officer’s former agency and obtain a copy of the records related to his or her separation.

Under the bill, nothing in the state patrol disciplinary procedures or collective bargaining agreement can:
• limit the discretion of the superintendent of law enforcement and public safety from disclosing the status or outcome of an internal investigation or discipline to the Legislature, Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice, the Nebraska Police Standards Advisory Council, the Equal Opportunity Commission or a complainant;
• limit the consideration by the state patrol of disciplinary action in a prior case that occurred within the 10 years preceding the date such progressive discipline is imposed;
• limit the misconduct for which a new disciplinary proceeding may be initiated to conduct that occurred within the two years preceding the date discipline is imposed;
• require the release of reports and materials concerning an internal investigation of a member alleged to have committed a Class I misdemeanor, felony or an allegation involving dishonesty prior to the initial investigation interview;
• limit or restrict access of individuals conducting the internal investigation to disciplinary or misconduct materials regarding a member under investigation; or
• prevent, limit or restrict access by the commission to internal investigation reports or materials.

The bill also allows state employees to report sexual harassment directly to the state Department of Administrative Services. The investigation will be conducted either by the department or the state agency where the employee works.

The department or agency conducting the investigation will maintain the confidentiality of the reporting employee and any other person participating in such an investigation except in cases when disclosure is authorized in writing by the person or when necessary to conduct the investigation or impose discipline. Additionally, the person against whom the allegation is made will be informed of the reporting employee’s identity.

The state agency employing the reporting employee is prohibited from retaliating or discriminating against the employee or any other person for participating in the investigation.

The Nebraska Crime Commission will have authority to subpoena records only from the Nebraska State Patrol. Law enforcement agencies are required to retain records regarding the officer’s separation from service for five years after an employee’s separation from the agency.

The bill passed on a 38-2 vote and took effect immediately.

Lawmakers approved a bill that will help injured workers receive settlement payments more efficiently.

LB953, introduced by Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht, requires the Workers’ Compensation Court to approve provisions of a lump-sum settlement regarding the consideration of Medicare’s interests or disputed and unpaid medical expenses if the employee has an attorney who affirms that the nonpayment of disputed expenses or the agreement regarding Medicare’s interests is in the best interests of the employee.

The bill eliminates a requirement for a duly-executed release if a lump-sum settlement is approved by the court.

Among other provisions, it also clarifies that the 50 percent penalty imposed on settlement payments made more than 30 days late to an employee still will apply until the court enters an order of dismissal with prejudice.

The bill includes provisions of LB784, introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas. These prohibit contractors and employers who have unpaid fines for violating the Employee Classification Act from entering into a contract with the state or any political subdivision until the fines are paid.

LB953 passed on a 48-0 vote.

An effort to provide grant funding to community colleges developing education and training programs for adult learners failed to advance from general file.

LB515, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, would have provided grants for up to three years to eligible community college programs. The Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education would have provided oversight of the grant program.

Following the 32-0 adoption of a Business and Labor Committee amendment to clarify that grants would be distributed only when such funds are appropriated by the Legislature, senators voted 21-12 on the bill’s advancement. This was four votes short of the number needed.

A bill that was part of the Legislature’s budget adjustment package approved claims made against the state.

LB950, introduced by Albrecht, approved tort and workers’ compensation claims totaling $2 million, along with several agency write-offs totaling $978,000 for various uncollectable debts.

LB1096, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, would have made changes in state law to reflect that the state risk manager has the authority to pay claims of all workers’ compensation benefits when liability is undisputed.

Among other provisions, the bill also would have modified an aggregation requirement so that any claim under $50,000 could be paid at the time of settlement.

LB1096 was advanced from committee on a 7-0 vote, but was not scheduled for debate.

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