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2014 Legislative Session Commences

Date: January 12, 2014

More than 500 bills to consider in 60 days

In his first legislative update from Lincoln, NFIB/Nebraska State Director Bob Hallstrom reports on the issues of highest importance for small business.

The gavel fell at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, January 8, marking the beginning of the second session of the 103rd Legislature. The first two days of the short, 60-day session, consisted primarily of bill introductions, with 117 new bills dropped into the hopper. Combined with the 400 bills carried over from the 2013 Legislative Session, lawmakers will face a healthy slate of issues once again this session. 

Bill introductions will continue for the first 10 legislative days, with General File debate of bills carried over from the 2013 session to commence on January 13. Committee hearings will begin January 21 and run through the end of February. Gov. Dave Heineman will present his State of the State Address on January 15.

Starting his first general session is Sen. Tommy Garrett (Bellevue), who was appointed to replace Sen. Scott Price (Bellevue), who resigned last summer. The 2014 legislative session will be the last for Senators Pete Pirsch, John Nelson, Steve Lathrop, Scott Lautenbaugh, Brad Ashford, Greg Adams, Amanda McGill, Bill Avery, Norm Wallman, Russ Karpisek, Annette Dubas, John Wightman, Tom Carlson, Tom Hansen, Mark Christensen, Danielle Conrad, and John Harms due to term limits, the constitutional provision limiting senators to serving two consecutive four-year terms in office.

Carryover legislation of importance to small business

The following worker compensation reform bills, which are supported by NFIB, have been carried over for potential consideration during the 2014 Legislative Session. 

Legislative Bill 307 – Workers’ Compensation Act. Introduced by Sen. John Nelson (Omaha), LB 307 would:
  • override the doctrine of "beneficent purposes," to eliminate the liberal construction of the workers' compensation act in favor of employees
  • allow for suspension of temporary disability benefits or create a rebutable presumption that such benefits should be terminated in cases in which injured workers
1. are incarcerated
2. refuse to submit to medical or surgical care recommended by their own physician
3. refuse to accept “light-duty work” for which they have been recommended by their treating physician
  • provide greater flexibility and fairness for both employers and employees in cases in which an increase or decrease in compensation is warranted, but the filing of an application for modification of award is delayed.
  • reinstate the defense of employee misrepresentation for employers to avoid having to pay benefits resulting from an injury or condition relating to misrepresentations given by the employee when applying for a position with the employer (see “Employee Misrepresentation, below)
  • allow employees, prior to the time of sustaining an injury, to “opt-out” of having first injury reports relating to their workplace injuries made available for public inspection
  • base the interest rate applicable to awards of WC benefits on appeal upon the same standard applicable to other money judgments.
Legislative Bill 324 – Workers’ Compensation Act: Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh (Omaha) is the sponsor of legislation that would:
  • reinstate the defense of employee misrepresentation for employers to avoid having to pay benefits resulting from an injury or condition relating to misrepresentations given by the employee when applying for a position with the employer (see “Employee Misrepresentation, below)
  • allow employees, prior to the time of sustaining an injury, to “opt-out” of having first injury reports relating to their workplace injuries made available for public inspection
  • base the interest rate applicable to awards of WC benefits on appeal upon the same standard applicable to other money judgments.
Legislative Bill 584 – Workers’ Compensation-Utilization and Treatment Guideline: Sen. Jim Smith (Papillion) has introduced legislation that would require the scope and duration of medical, surgical, and hospital services to be provided in accordance with the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG) as published by the Work Loss Data Institute, effective January 1, 2014.  The legislation would presume any medical, surgical, and hospital services provided in accordance with the ODG to be reasonable, medical, surgical and hospital services.  The measure would remove responsibility of an insurer, risk-management pool, or self-insured employer for charges for medical, surgical or hospital services not provided in accordance with the ODG, unless the medical, surgical, or hospitable services were provided in a medical emergency, pre-authorized by the insurer or approved by an independent medical examiner selected by the employer and the employee to resolve disputes regarding the reasonableness of such services.

Bills Harmful to Small Business

The following bills, which are opposed by NFIB, remain stalled in committee, but could receive further consideration this session:

Legislative Bill 291 – Workers Compensation Act: Sen. Jeremy Nordquist (Omaha) is the sponsor of legislation that would provide for a 50 percent penalty to be added to the amount of medical payments payable under the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act if not paid within 30 days after notice has been given or within 30 days after the entry of a final order, award or judgment of the Compensation Court.

Legislative Bill 297 – Workers Compensation Act: Sen. Kate Bolz (Lincoln), introduced LB 297, which would add coroners to the individuals eligible to receive benefits for mental injuries and mental illness unaccompanied by physical injury under the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act.

Legislative Bill 302 – Workers Compensation Act: Introduced by Sen. Norm Wallman (Cortland), LB 302 would provide annual adjustments for total disability benefits in a proportion equal to annual increases resulting from the determination of the state's average weekly wage.  The automatically escalating benefits proposed under LB 302 will result in increased costs for employers.  

Legislative Bill 310 – Workers Compensation Act: Sen. Kate Bolz (Lincoln), has introduced LB 310, which would provide that loss of an arm does not include injuries to the shoulder regardless of the location of residual impairment, with injuries to the shoulder to be compensated pursuant to the total and partial disability provisions of the Workers' Compensation Act, rather than as a scheduled member injury.    

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