Session Review: Business and Labor

Business innovation, job training and workers’ compensation issues were some of the business and labor concerns addressed this session.

One of the most contentious issues lawmakers faced this session, however, was reform of the Commission on Industrial Relations (CIR) — the state’s arbiter of labor disputes between public sector employees and government employers.

LB397, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, includes a formula that allows wages to be adjusted within a range of between 98 percent and 102 percent of the average of an array.

The bill also:
• incorporates health insurance and pension benefits into an hourly rate value;
• allows that wage rates be adjusted to reflect Nebraska’s cost of living;
• specifies a 70 percent match of duties performed and time spent performing those duties;
• sets criteria for the size of comparable out-of-state cities and metropolitan statistical areas;
• provides a preference for geographic proximity;
• sets the preferred array size between seven and nine;
• relaxes the rule of evidence requirement;
• requires that three CIR commissioners be involved in cases regarding wage disputes; and
• requires parties to provide proof that it rejected the other’s last best final offer before the CIR can decide the dispute.

Lawmakers passed LB397 on a 48-0 vote.

Hastings Sen. Dennis Utter introduced LB482 and Scottsbluff Sen. John Harms introduced LB555 — both intending to reform the CIR — but after compromises were made and incorporated into LB397, both bills were indefinitely postponed.

Senators gave final approval to a bill facilitating paid internships for college students.

LB386, introduced by Elk Creek Sen. Lavon Heidemann at the request of the governor, allows a company eligible for benefits under the Nebraska Advantage Act to apply to the state Department of Economic Development for job-training grants to assist in hiring interns for newly created positions.

Grants will be limited to the lesser of 60 percent of the cost of the internship or $5,000 in distressed areas of the state, or the lesser of 40 percent of the cost of the internship or $3,500 in non-distressed areas.

Lawmakers voted 43-0 to pass LB386.

Senators approved two bills introduced by Lathrop related to workers’ compensation.

LB152 reimburses a hospital 160 percent of its Medicare rate for inpatient trauma care.

Under the bill, additional compensation is provided for the outlier trauma cases requiring unusual expenses. The stop loss threshold for such cases is 1.25 times the basic reimbursement rate. If the billed charges are greater than the stop loss threshold amount, hospitals will be reimbursed the basic reimbursement rate plus an additional 65 percent of the amount above the threshold.

Lawmakers passed LB152 on a 45-0 vote.

LB151 allows the Workers’ Compensation Court to maintain offices outside of the Capitol and allows involved parties to conduct hearings via telephone or video conference.

The bill also eliminates the court’s three judge review panel and a requirement that court judges reside in Lancaster County unless the court approves residence elsewhere.

LB151 passed on a 45-0 vote.

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

LB585, introduced by the Business and Labor Committee, approved $2.5 million in tort claims, $382,000 in workers’ compensation claims and $222,000 in miscellaneous claims against the state. The bill also includes $1 million in write-offs for fiscal year 2010-11.

LB585 passed on a 43-0 vote.

Three bills related to workers’ compensation issues were held in committee.

LB341, introduced by Papillion Sen. Jim Smith, would make workers’ compensation benefits subject to income withholding.

LB346, introduced by Conrad, would authorize the Workers’ Compensation Court to issue contempt orders and enforce conformity with the order.

Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh introduced LB348, which would limit an employer’s liability for medical conditions and disabilities to situations in which the accident itself was the prevailing factor for the personal injury or disability.

Several other bills also were held by the Business and Labor Committee.

LB113, introduced by Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas, would make the use of credit histories or reports an unlawful employment practice, except when information in the credit check directly relates to the occupation.

LB530, introduced by Omaha Sen. Brenda Council, would prohibit employers from using an employee’s or prospective employee’s credit history as a basis for employment, recruitment, discharge or compensation.

Omaha Sen. Burke Harr introduced LB674, which would require an employer to give prior notice to employees before engaging in electronic monitoring, except in cases where the employer has reasonable grounds to believe the employee is violating the law, violating the legal rights of another employee or may be creating a hostile work environment and the electronic monitoring may produce evidence of misconduct.

Lastly, LB594, introduced by Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson, would place responsibility for obtaining inspections of elevators and amusement rides with the owner rather than the State of Nebraska.

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