Nebraska Legislature Opens for 2018 Business

Date: January 05, 2018

Passage of three workers’ compensation bills, defeat of two others a top NFIB priority

With 167 new bills added to the nearly 400 carried over from the last session, senators have their work cut out for them, reports State Director Bob Hallstrom in the first of his weekly updates from Lincoln.

The gavel fell at 10 a.m. January 3, marking the beginning of the second session of the 105th Legislature. The first two days of the short, 60-day session consisted primarily of bill introductions, with 167 new bills dropped into the hopper.

Combined with nearly 400 bills carried over from the 2017 session, lawmakers will face a healthy slate of issues once again.

New Face

Starting her first general session is Sen. Theresa Thibodeau (Omaha), who was appointed to replace Sen. Joni Craighead (Omaha), who resigned last fall. With Senator Craighead’s resignation, a spot opened up on the Banking, Commerce, and Insurance Committee, which has been filled by Senator Burke Harr (Omaha). Lawmakers also voted for Sen. Robert Hilkemann (Omaha), to serve as the new chairman of the Committee on Committees, which determines committee memberships.

Final Year

The 2018 session will be the last for Sens. Jim Smith (Papillion), Bob Krist (Omaha), Burke Harr (Omaha), Lydia Brasch (Bancroft), Tyson Larson (O’Neill), and Paul Schumacher (Columbus) due to term limits, the constitutional provision limiting senators to serving two consecutive four-year terms in office.

Major issues expected to be addressed this session, include a $173 million budget shortfall, property tax and income tax relief, and corrections reform.

Small Business Agenda

The following worker compensation reform bills, which are supported by NFIB, have been carried over for potential consideration during the 2018 legislative session.

Legislative Bill 319 – Workers Compensation – Confidentiality of First Injury Reports: Sen. Steve Halloran (Hastings) is the sponsor of LB 319, which would make first injury reports relating to workplace injuries confidential, unless the employee waives confidentiality to allow the report to be made available for public inspection.

Legislative Bill 408 – Workers’ Compensation – Evidenced-Based Drug Formulary: Sen. John Lowe, Sr. (Kearney), has introduced legislation that would establish an evidence-based drug formulary consisting of Schedule II, III, IV and V prescription drugs in connection with workers’ compensation claims with a date of injury on or after January 1, 2018. Over-prescribing of opioids is an epidemic that brings about delays in the ability of employees to return to work as a result of addiction and dependencies resulting from over-utilization of pain killers. 

Legislative Bill 609 – Medical Fee Schedule – Outpatient Hospital and Ambulatory Surgical Centers: Sen. Lou Ann Linehan (Elkhorn) has introduced LB 609 that would establish a “Medicare-Plus” medical fee schedule for ambulatory surgical centers and outpatient hospital services similar to the system that applies for inpatient hospital and inpatient hospital trauma services. Currently, ambulatory surgical centers and outpatient hospital services reimbursement in workers’ compensation cases is based upon “billed charges” less a percentage discount. A recent Workers’ Compensation Research Institute (WCRI) study reflects that medical fee schedules utilizing billed charges less a discount for ambulatory surgical centers and outpatient hospital services is not effective in controlling costs.

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

Legislative Bill 147 – Nebraska Workers Compensation – Waiting Time Penalties: Sen. Matt Hansen (Lincoln) has introduced legislation (LB 147) that would eliminate additional payments for waiting time if the employer or his or her workers’ compensation insurer:

  • has conducted a reasonable investigation into whether benefits were owed to the employee
  • the results of the reasonable investigation were the actual basis relied upon to deny, delay payment of, or terminate benefits
  • and the basis for the denial, delay of payment, or termination of benefits has been conveyed to the employee contemporaneously with such denial, delay or termination.

The bill would also only allow compensation, once commenced, to be terminated when the employee has returned to work or upon 30 days’ notice from the employer or the workers’ compensation insurer to the employee stating the reason for the termination and advising the employee of the right to file a claim with the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court.

Legislative Bill 181 – Workers Compensation – Independent Medical Examinations: Legislation (LB 181) introduced by Sen. Dan Quick (Grand Island) would require an employer to provide reimbursement to an employee for the reasonable fee associated with a subsequent report and examination by a physician selected by the employee, along with reasonably necessary transportation expenses incurred for the examination in any case in which a physician selected by the employer or its workers’ compensation insurer renders medical findings on the medical condition of the employee, if the employee disputes the medical findings of the physician selected by the employer or its workers’ compensation carrier.

Legislative Bill 420 – Ban The Box: Introduced by Sen. John McCollister (Omaha), LB 420 would prohibit public and private employers and employment agencies from asking an applicant to disclose, orally or in writing, information concerning the applicant’s criminal record or history, including any inquiries on any employment application, until the employer or employment agency has determined the applicant meets the minimum employment qualifications. The bill would apply to employers with 15 or more employees.

Small Business Day at the Capitol

NFIB/Nebraska will co-sponsor a Small Business Day at the Capitol, March 13 in Lincoln.

NFIB’s co-sponsors are the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, the Lincoln Independent Business Association and Nebraskans For Workers’ Compensation Equity and Fairness.

Small Business Day gives NFIB members an opportunity to network with other small-business owners. Gov. Pete Ricketts is expected to speak, and there will be a legislative briefing by state senators.

Details on the time and location of Small Business Day at the Capitol will be released soon. Check www.NFIB.com/NE for the latest information.

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Join us March 13 for NFIB’s annual Small Business Day featuring Gov. Pete Ricketts and top state senators. Check this webpage for upcoming details.

 

New state Sen. Theresa Thibodeau begins her first year in office. Photo courtesy of the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature.

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