NE: WC For Mental Injuries Measure Amended, Advanced

                               Lincoln, NE (CompNewsNetwork) - Lawmakers extended a sunset clause and gave second-round approval April 6 to a bill that would change the Nebraska Workers' Compensation Act.

Currently, the act indicates that mental injuries are compensable only when accompanied by a compensable physical injury.

LB780, introduced by Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, would make mental injuries unaccompanied by a physical injury eligible for compensation for first responders, in limited circumstances. The bill would exclude recovery for mental injuries resulting from normal employer and employee relations, including personnel and disciplinary actions.

Under the bill, a first responder is defined as a sheriff, deputy sheriff, police or state patrol officer, volunteer or paid firefighter or a volunteer or paid individual licensed in a subdivision who provides immediate medical care in order to prevent loss of life or aggravation of physiological or psychological illness or injury.

As amended, the bill's provisions would have ended by June 30, 2013.

Holdrege Sen. Tom Carlson offered an amendment, adopted 41-0, which would extend the sunset to June 30, 2014. He said the extension would give senators an additional year to gauge the impact of expanding workers' compensation to stand-alone mental injuries.

Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha offered an amendment that would pay compensation to the dependents of an employee who dies within one year of a compensable mental injury or mental illness, if his or her death is a direct result of the mental injury or illness.

McCoy said the change would place necessary limitations on the bill's benefits.
The amendment failed on a 17-27 vote.

A second McCoy amendment would have limited benefits for stand-alone mental injuries to 26 weeks.

“The amendment seeks to draw a line, while at the same time recognizing the value of what our first responders do for our state,” he said.

Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton supported the amendment, saying it would help municipalities plan for the bill's cost.

“It is not unreasonable to put forward some guidelines,” he said.

The amendment failed on a 12-30 vote.

A final amendment, offered by Omaha Sen. John Nelson, would have limited the bill's provisions to volunteer first responders. Paid first responders currently have access to counseling and other benefits through their employers, he said, and the state should not mandate redundant coverage.

Lathrop opposed the amendment, saying it would be unfair to distinguish between paid and unpaid first responders in relation to mental injuries.

“I think cutting out the paid first responders causes more problems than it solves,” he said.

The Nelson amendment failed on a 4-29 vote and senators advanced LB780 to final reading 38-5.

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