Business and Labor

Members of the Business and Labor Committee considered several measures this session to provide increased worker protections, expand wage and benefit options and collect workforce development data.

Worker protections

Lawmakers passed a bill that makes several changes to existing employment regulations.

LB1016, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, prohibits an employer from retaliating or discriminating against an employee who files a suit or complaint or otherwise participates in an investigation under the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act.

An employee who works for a company that is not subject to the Nebraska Fair Employment Practice Act—and alleges a violation of the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act—can bring a suit against their employer to recover damages resulting from the violation.

Citations issued to employers for violations under LB1016 must be paid before the employer may contract with the state or any political subdivision.

The bill changes the fee for contractor registration from $40 to no more than $40. Additionally, it changes the citation process under the Employee Classification Act to mirror the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act.

The bill passed on a 42-4 vote and took effect immediately.

LB1060, introduced by Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh, clarified that existing protections against racially based employment discrimination include hair texture and protective hairstyles, including braids, locks and twists.

Senators passed the bill on a 27-12 vote Aug. 11. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill Aug. 15, after the 2020 legislative session ended.

In his veto message, Ricketts said he agreed with the intent of the bill, but that it would create a new definition of race that would be applied to employment discrimination cases going forward.

The committee held a special public hearing on a proposal to implement certain protections for meat processing employees amid the coronavirus pandemic.

LB667, as introduced by Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas, would have provided grant funding for youth workforce development training.

Vargas introduced an amendment to remove those provisions that instead would have required meatpacking plant employers to maintain six feet of space around and between each worker by increasing physical space between workstations, slowing production speeds, staggering shifts and breaks and adjusting shift size.

The proposal also would have required employers to provide all workers with personal protective equipment, coronavirus screenings and paid time off to quarantine after a positive COVID-19 test or while awaiting test results.

The committee advanced LB667 as amended to general file but it was not scheduled for debate.

Wages and benefits

Amateur student athletes can earn income under a measure approved by the Legislature this session.

LB962, sponsored by Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt and passed 37-6, allows college athletes at public and private schools to earn money from their name, image and likeness rights.

The bill prohibits any postsecondary institution or athletic association from penalizing or punishing a student athlete who enters into a commercial contract, as long as it does not directly conflict with a team contract.

Student athletes are required to report any personal contracts to their postsecondary institution and are barred from wearing a sponsor’s apparel or otherwise advertising for the sponsor during official team activities.

LB962 also allows student athletes to obtain professional representation to negotiate related contractual or legal matters. An athlete may seek civil damages against their postsecondary institution or athletic association if they believe their right to seek compensation has been violated.

Any compensation earned by a student athlete will be factored into any application for need-based financial aid. Schools also will have until July 1, 2023, to implement a framework for handling student athlete compensation.

LB962 includes a one-year statute of limitation from the cause of action for any student filing a civil complaint against his or her school.

Senators also voted to expand access to mental health services for emergency first responders.

LB963, sponsored by Gordon Sen. Tom Brewer, provides first responders with opportunities to receive resilience training to help prevent or mitigate the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The bill allows first responders, until Jan. 1, 2028, to establish a presumptive case of PTSD from cumulative injury or stress caused by conditions of employment as a personal injury for workers’ compensation purposes, under certain conditions.

Only state-licensed, independent practicing physicians, psychologists and mental health practitioners are qualified to render an official PTSD diagnosis. The state Department of Health and Human Services will reimburse first responders for resilience training if their employers do not.

The bill also increases burial benefits for work-related injuries or illnesses to $11,000. Beginning in 2023, the cap will be adjusted by a maximum of 2.75 percent per year.

The bill passed on a 45-0 vote.

A proposal to implement paid family and medical leave failed to advance this session.

LB305, as introduced last session by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford, would have required employers with four or more employees to provide paid sick and safe leave. Under the proposal, employees would have accrued at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees could earn up to 40 hours of paid leave per year, based on hours worked.

After three hours of debate spanning two days, the Legislature moved to another item on the agenda. LB305 was not scheduled for further debate.

Other measures

The state will more closely track educational and workforce outcomes under a bill passed by lawmakers.

The data collection system created under LB1160, sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, allows the state to track individuals as they progress through the state’s educational system and enter the workforce.

The state Department of Labor will execute a memorandum of understanding with the data collection system before Dec. 31, 2020, to ensure the exchange of workforce data with all stakeholders.

The bill establishes several data collection goals, including providing workforce outcome data to postsecondary educational institutions, guiding students to education, training and career pathways that will support occupational success and identifying long-term return on investment from early education programs.

An annual report of policy recommendations will be provided to lawmakers by Dec. 1, 2021.

The bill passed on a 33-5 vote and took effect immediately.

Finally, the committee heard testimony on LB813, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz, which would direct $4 million in general funds to the state Department of Labor in fiscal year 2020-21 to expand apprenticeship programs.

The proposal did not advance from committee.

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