Small-business agenda includes 15 other bills of interest
State Director Bob Hallstrom reports from the State Capitol on the legislative week ending January 12
As of January 11, the seventh day of the 2018 legislative session, a total of 332 bills and three proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced. With only three days left for bill introductions — if lawmakers exercise restraint — the total number of bills introduced this session will be less than normal.
Committee hearings will begin January 16 and continue through the latter part of February. Floor debate on bills carried over from last session and bills advancing from a committee to General File continue during morning sessions of the Legislature.
Other key dates in the 2018 legislative session, include:
- Jan. 18 – Last day to introduce bills
- Feb. 14 – Deadline for requests on Speaker priorities
- Feb. 20 – Deadline for designation of Committee or Senator priorities
- Feb. 21 – Speaker announces his priority bills
- Feb. 28 – Forecasting Board meets to revise revenue projections
- Feb. 28 – Full-day floor debate begins
- April 18 – Sine die adjournment (tentative)
Governor’s State-of-the-State Address
Gov. Pete Ricketts presented the annual ‘State of the State’ address January 10, calling for income and property tax reductions, state budget cuts, and restrained spending growth.
On the budget—The governor has proposed across-the-board cuts of 2 percent this year and 4 percent next fiscal year. The proposed budget would provide for a transfer of $108 million from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund and bring additional spending down to a level of 0.2 percent. The governor also designated priorities for increased funding for the Department of Health and Human Services Child Welfare System ($35 million over the next two years), increases for agency requests ($55 million), $15 million to Medicaid to account for reduction in federal matching funds and $2.5 million to the Beatrice State Development Center.
On tax relief—Governor Ricketts has proposed increasing property tax relief by restructuring the state’s current Property Tax Credit Cash Fund into a new, refundable income-tax credit available only to owner-occupied households in Nebraska and agricultural landowners who reside in the state. The income tax credit would be equal to 10 percent of the property tax bill on taxpayers’ homes or farms, with the credit for homeowners capped at $230. Property tax relief in future years would result when state revenue exceeds revenue forecasts. Individual and corporate income taxes would also be reduced under the governor’s proposal, with the top individual income tax rate dropping from 6.84 percent to 6.75 percent in 2019 and to 6.69 percent in 2020. The maximum corporate tax rate (paid on income of more than $100,000), would be reduced from 7.81 percent to 6.75 percent in 2019, and to 6.69 percent in 2020. The governor has also proposed an additional $10 million in funding over the next two years for workforce development.
NFIB Victory on Workers’ Compensation Proposal
The Legislature briefly considered Legislative Bill 181 on first-round debate January 10. The legislation, which is opposed by NFIB, had been bracketed the last session, delaying further consideration until the 2018 legislative session.
LB 181 would allow an employee who disagrees with the medical findings of a physician selected by the employer, or his or her workers’ compensation insurer, to be reimbursed by the employer, or his or her insurer, for a second examination by a physician selected by the employee.
In requesting that the bill be passed over and receive no further consideration this session, Sen. Dan Quick noted that he had met with parties interested in the legislation – including representatives of NFIB – and determined that alternatives to legislation could address his concerns. Efforts are underway to provide better information to employees regarding their right to select a physician following a workplace injury and to provide additional training to medical providers and small businesses regarding these provisions of law. Senator Quick is expected to request an interim study on this issue.
Other Workers’ Compensation Bills of Interest
The following bills relating to workers’ compensation were introduced during the past week:
Legislative Bill 952 – Workers’ Compensation – Restrictions on Multiple Dismissals of Actions: Sen. Joni Albrecht (Thurston) has introduced LB 952, which would restrict the ability of an employee to dismiss an action against the same defendant in the Compensation Court, based upon the same cause of action after having previously dismissed the action, unless otherwise allowed by the Compensation Court in the ‘interests of justice.’ (NFIB Position – Support)
Legislative Bill 953 – Workers’ Compensation – Approval of Lump Sum Settlements: Senator Albrecht is also the sponsor of LB 953, which would address issues relating to the approval of lump-sum settlements by the Workers’ Compensation Court. The bill would establish a conclusive presumption that the lump-sum settlement is made in conformity with the compensation schedule and for the best interests of the employee or his or her dependents under all of the circumstances, if the employee’s attorney affirms these facts in the application for an order approving the settlement. The conclusive presumption would apply to cases in which
a) the employee is eligible for Medicare, is a Medicare beneficiary or has a reasonable expectation of becoming eligible for Medicare within 30 months of executing the settlement, or
b) medical, surgical, or hospital services provided to the employee are not paid by the employer, or any person other than Medicaid, who has made any payment to the supplier of medical, surgical, or hospital services provided to the employee, is not reimbursed by the employer. (NFIB Position – Support)
Legislative Bill 858 –Workers’ Compensation – Disability Benefits: Sen. Matt Hansen (Lincoln) is the sponsor of LB 858, which would provide annual adjustments for total disability benefits in proportion to the annual increase in the state’s average weekly wage. The automatically escalating disability benefits proposed under LB 858 will result in increased costs for employers. LB 858 will be heard before the Business and Labor Committee January 22. (NFIB Position – Oppose)
Legislative Bill 928 – Workers’ Compensation – Death and Burial Benefits: LB 928, introduced by Senator Mike McDonnell (Omaha), would revise the manner in which an employer’s responsibility for burial expenses is determined. Currently set at $10,000, the burial expense would be increased to 14 times the state’s average weekly wage (approximately $10,600) and be automatically adjusted annually thereafter. The legislation would also establish a $25,000 ‘death benefit’ in cases involving the death of an employee resulting from a workplace accident who has no spouse, child, or other dependent entitled to benefits under the Workers’ Compensation Act. The automatically escalating burial benefit and proposed ‘death benefit’ under LB 928 will result in increased costs for employers. (NFIB Position – Oppose)
Legislative Bill 957 – Workers’ Compensation – Electronic Payment of Benefits: LB 957, introduced by Sen. John Lowe (Kearney), would authorize, upon agreement of an employer or insurer and an employee entitled to compensation under the Workers’ Compensation Act, payments to be made by electronic means (direct deposit, prepaid card, or similar electronic payment system).
Other Legislation of Interest
Other bills of interest to small business, include the following:
Legislative Bill 684 – Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act: LB 684, introduced by Sen. Carol Blood (Bellevue), would expand the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit Act to include veterans and also increase the amount of tax credit by one percentage point available to a veteran.
Legislative Bill 712 – Unemployment Insurance – Drug Testing: Senator Albrecht is the sponsor of legislation (LB 712) that would consider an individual to have refused to accept suitable work if he or she fails a pre-employment drug screening test required by an employer as a condition of employment.
The bill would also require the commissioner of the Department of Labor to require drug testing of an individual if the individual was terminated from employment with his or her most recent employer because of the unlawful use of a controlled substance, with any individual testing positive for a controlled substance when tested, or who fails to take a drug test when directed by the commissioner to be ineligible for benefits for the week in which he or she fails the drug test or fails to take the drug test and for any intervening weeks until a drug test is successfully passed.
Legislative Bill 728 – Income Taxation – Rate Increase: Introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne (Omaha), LB 728 would change the state’s individual income tax brackets and rates by adding a fifth bracket of 7.84 percent for high-income earners.
Legislative Bill 738 – Income Taxation – Social Security Benefits: Introduced by Sen. Brett Lindstrom (Omaha), LB 738 would utilize an index for inflation for taxation of Social Security benefits — similar to the system in place for Nebraska’s state income tax brackets.
Legislative Bill 829 – Property Tax Relief Act: LB 829, introduced by Sen. Steve Erdman (Bayard), would authorize, for taxable years beginning on or after January 1, 2019, a refundable credit against the state income tax for each taxpayer in the amount of 50 percent of the school district taxes levied on the taxpayer’s property.
Legislative Bill 843 – Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act: Introduced by Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (Lincoln), LB 843 would prohibit an employer from requiring non-disclosure of wages as a condition of employment and prevent an employer from requiring an employee to sign a waiver or other document purporting to deny an employee the right to disclose the employee’s wages.
The measure would also prohibit an employer from taking any adverse employment action against an employee for disclosing an employee’s own wages or discussing another employee’s wages that have been disclosed voluntarily. Finally, the bill would establish a cause of action under the Nebraska Wage and Payment and Collection Act for violations by an employer with the employee entitled to receive reinstatement, back pay, restoration of lost service credit, money damages and costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
Legislative Bill 844 – Healthy and Safe Families and Workplace Act: Introduced by Sen. Sue Crawford (Bellevue), LB 844 would allow employees to accrue a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, with a maximum of 40 hours of paid sick time accrued in a calendar year. Under the measure, employees would be entitled to use accrued paid sick time beginning on the 60th calendar day following commencement of employment.
Paid sick leave would be authorized for:
- an employee’s mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition
- an employee’s need for medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition
- an employee’s need for preventative medical care
- care of a family member with a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition
- care of a family member who needs medical diagnosis, care, or treatment of a mental or physical illness, injury, or health condition
- care of a family member who needs preventative medical care
- absence necessary due to domestic assault, sexual assault, or stalking.
Legislative Bill 916 – Nebraska Wage Payment Collection Act/Wage and Hour Act: Sen. Matt Hansen (Lincoln), has introduced legislation (LB 916) that would prohibit an employer from retaliating or discriminating against an employee or applicant for employment because the employee or applicant
a) files a complaint under either the Wage and Hour Act or the Nebraska Wage Payment and Collection Act or
b) testifies, assists, or participates in an investigation, proceeding, or action concerning a violation of either Act.
The legislation would also authorize the court to grant such legal or equitable relief as it deems appropriate to effectuate the purposes of the Wage and Hour Act, including temporary or permanent injunctive relief and general and special damages.
Legislative Bill 961 – Income Taxation: Sen. Jim Smith (Papillion) has introduced a ‘shell’ bill (LB 961) that would change corporate income tax rates by an unspecified percentage.
Legislative Bill 962 – Income Taxation: Also introduced by Senator Smith, LB 962 would change individual income tax rates by an unspecified percentage.
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. Governor 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.
Previous 2018 Reports and News Releases
[Tile photo of Sen. Suzanne Geist courtesy of Unicameral Update, “The Nebraska Legislature’s official news source since 1977.”]