Albert and Diane DeLeon of Grand Island persuaded their state Sen. Mike Gloor to introduce a bill that was signed into law that increased the funeral benefit from $6,000 to $10,000. This was after they lost their son Emilio in a construction accident. In addition, Gene Cary testified in favor of a similar bill that would have raised the funeral benefit for the families of dead workers as well as giving a $25,000 death benefit to parents who have had a child killed in a work accident. Gene’s son Neil was killed in a work accident in 2010. The bill awarding an automatic death benefit to parents who have their child killed in a work accident failed to advance out of committee. Bills held in committee are killed for this session of the legislature and must be re-introduced next session. However, the combined stories of Cary and the DeLeons helped to advance the cause of parents who lose a child in a work accident.
Besides the bill increasing funeral benefits for parents who lose their children in work accidents, the only other bill to pass that affected injured workers was a bill that gave employers protections for information given in employment references.
Besides the bill increasing funeral benefits for parents who lose their children in work accidents, the only other bill to pass that affected injured workers was a bill that gave employers protections for information given in employment references. As the bill was originally introduced by Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, the bill would have given employers almost free reign to give negative job references to workers who filed workers’ compensation claims. As amended by the Business and Labor Committee under the leadership of Committee Chairman Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, the law now forbids negative references in retaliation for filing workers compensation and exercising other rights protected by state law. The bill fairly balances the interest of employees and employers.
Attorney Brody Ockander testified against a bill that would have allowed employers to avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers as a result of those injured workers not telling employers about a previous injury on their employment application.
This legislative session was also notable for what did not pass. Attorney Brody Ockander testified against a bill that would have allowed employers to avoid paying workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers as a result of those injured workers not telling employers about a previous injury on their employment application. This bill, which was held in committee, was introduced to overturn Brody’s decision in Bassinger v. Nebraska Heart Hospital, 282 Neb. 385, ___N.W. 2d___ (2011). In part, the Neb. Supreme Court ruled in associate Ockander’s client’s favor because forcing employees to disclose pre-existing injuries on their application would discourage the hiring of injured workers. Furthermore, the bill as written potentially conflicted with state and federal laws against disability discrimination.
Also held in committee was LB1012 introduced by Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha that included some terrible changes to Nebraska workers’ compensation law. The first major provision of the bill would have created a presumption that an employee’s condition would have improved if they refused surgery. This is flawed because surgeries do not always improve an injured worker’s condition. The bill also would have allowed employers to avoid paying temporary total disability benefits if they could place the employee in a light-duty job at any for-profit or non-profit job. In other words, the bill would force a worker hurt in Lexington or Grand Island to come to Omaha or Lincoln to do light-duty work. Finally, the bill also would have cut off any temporary benefits for workers who were fired for cause or quit voluntarily if the employer could have accommodated the worker. Currently if a worker is fired for cause, the issue of what level of temporary benefits that worker receives is decided on a case-by-case basis.
A bill promoting so-called “evidence-based medicine” in workers compensation was also held in committee. Evidence-based medicine disregards a doctor’s experience, training and judgment in treating injured workers and replaces it with cookie-cutter guidelines that are drafted by the insurance company.