Straight Talk From Steve: Worker's Comp Bill
February 23, 2023
Last week we started floor debates in the Nebraska State Legislature, and the first thing on the agenda was to confirm the governor's appointments. In the past, this process would usually take three to four hours of floor debate to complete. The appointments would be confirmed and the Legislature would then move on to other business, such as debating bills.
That has not been the case this year. A few Democrats have decided to hold up the confirmation process. Consequently, we spent the first four mornings of the week working through a handful of confirmations. Let me remind you that the Unicameral Legislature is supposed to be a non-partisan body, right? Well, there is nothing non-partisan about what these few Senators did last week.
One of the arguments I often hear against switching back to a bicameral legislative system is that it would result in passing bills along partisan lines. What we have in our unicameral legislative system today is partisanship. Under our current system a very small faction of the minority party is able to dominate and control all debates on the floor of the Legislature. You might be wondering, "Why would they do that?" The reason is that several bills will soon be advancing out of committee and move up to the floor for debate on General File. Many of these are bills that those in the minority party do not like, such as LB77, a bill for constitutional carry without a permit, LB 626, the heartbeat bill, and LB 575, the Sports and Spaces Act which restricts biological male students from participating in female sports.
The strategy of these Senators is to waste as much time as possible in order to prevent bills like these from being debated on the floor. It is ridiculous that our unicameral system of government allows for a small minority to hold up the will of the majority. If democracy is supposed to be about the rule of the majority, then our unicameral system is hardly democratic and it certainly is not non-partisan.
One of my bills, LB 101, had a public hearing last week. This is a bill to prevent insurance companies from collecting workers compensation insurance premiums from farmers, ranchers and other small businesses who hire contract labor. Current state law allows for small companies with ten or fewer employees to be exempt from carrying workers compensation insurance, but the law is vague and is not being properly upheld in the courts. So, my bill solves this problem.
Here's why my bill is needed. A farmer who hires an independent contractor to haul his corn to the elevator, or to build a fence, should not have to carry workers compensation insurance. These folks are not employees of the farmer or the rancher, but the courts are now siding with the insurance companies and are forcing our farmers and ranchers to buy workers compensation insurance in order to cover these kinds of contractors. The insurance companies call this a surcharge; I call it a fine. Some of these so called "surcharges" can amount to several thousand dollars and that is why we need LB 101.
One would think that the agricultural lobbyists would support this kind of legislation. After all, they are supposed to represent farmers and ranchers, right? Well, that is not the case. Farm Bureau, for example, testified against my bill at the hearing. The most troubling part is the fact that not one of these farm groups ever came to my office in advance of the hearing to discuss possible solutions to the problem.
What happens is that lawyers show up at hearings and tell the committee members why a bill is a bad idea. They rarely ever offer solutions to problems. I am patiently waiting for the first time that a lawyer shows up at a hearing and says, "This bill is not the answer, but here is the solution to the problem."
The lobbyists have no solutions to the problem that LB 101 fixes. It is my opinion that every bill should solve a problem, and that is exactly what LB 101 does. I defined the problem for the committee, and then I offered a solution. My job as a State Senator is to make sure that the members of the Business and Labor Committee who conducted the hearing have the necessary information to make the right decision to solve this very troublesome problem, and that is exactly what I did.
Please feel free to contact my office at (402) 471-2616 or send me an email at [email protected].