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Capitol Digest: Senators spar over bill that would mandate paid sick leave in Nebraska

Capitol Digest: Senators spar over bill that would mandate paid sick leave in Nebraska

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Capitol Digest 2020 reporters capitoldigest

Omaha World-Herald reporters Paul Hammel and Martha Stoddard.

The World- Herald’s Statehouse reporters round up news highlights from the Legislature and state government into the Capitol Digest — a daily briefing for the political newshound with a busy schedule.

Sick leave. For the first time ever, the Nebraska Legislature on Thursday debated a measure that would require employers to offer at least 40 hours a year of paid sick leave to their employees.

Lawmakers adjourned for the day before taking a vote on Legislative Bill 305, introduced by State Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue. Debate is slated to resume when the Legislature meets again on Tuesday.

Crawford said the proposal would help with economic development by improving the health and well-being of Nebraska’s workforce. She said the bill would help the 46% of Nebraska workers whose employers do not provide them with paid sick time. That number includes 70% of low-wage workers.

Currently, she said, a lack of paid sick leave means an estimated 1.5 million Americans every day show up at work when they are not feeling well. That number includes people who work in restaurants, hospitals and other jobs where diseases could easily be spread.

But some senators who own small businesses opposed the measure, saying it would put too great a burden on small and rural employers.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte argued that similar mandates have destroyed main-street Nebraska, while Sen. John Lowe of Kearney said the bill would kill jobs, which hurts workers. Lowe said his business has not had a problem with the current situation.

“If employees were sick, we allowed them to stay home,” he said. “I’m not an ogre.”

Election of election commissioners

Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln wants voters to elect county election commissioners in the state’s largest counties.

His LB 1022 would resolve a dispute that erupted last year after a legal opinion from the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office said it was unconstitutional for the governor to appoint election commissioners in counties like Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy, as is currently done. The legal opinion also questioned whether county boards could appoint such election officials, as is done in Buffalo, Cass, Hall and Platte Counties.

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The bill would require election of election commissioners in all counties with populations of 40,000 or more. The election would be on a nonpartisan basis. In the smaller counties of the state, the elected county clerk typically also serves as the election commissioner.

Hansen asked for the legal opinion after questions were raised about the legality of appointing election commissioners. A lawsuit asking a judge to rule on the dispute is pending.

Business incentives

The expiration of the state’s top business incentive program, the Advantage Act, would be extended a year under LB 1034, introduced by Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen. Right now, the act expires at the end of 2020.

Friesen said he offered the measure in case “things blow up” like last year, when lawmakers, including Friesen, declined to enact a replacement package called the ImagiNE Act.

LB 1034 makes some slight changes to the Advantage Act, and its passage would remove the pressure to pass a replacement package this session or else leave Nebraska without its major program to reward businesses that expand or move to the state.

One more state senator

Friesen also introduced a measure to allow one more state legislator. LB 1035 would increase the Legislature to 50 members, the maximum allowed under the Nebraska Constitution.

Norfolk Sen. Jim Scheer, the speaker of the Legislature, has proposed amending the constitution to allow up to 55 senators. He says it would make legislative redistricting less painful and ensure that lawmakers have a manageable number of constituents.

Food insecurity

Three Omaha senators — Tony Vargas, Megan Hunt and Machaela Cavanaugh — introduced bills Thursday to address the lack of access to healthy, affordable foods.

The bills would appropriate money to double the value of food stamps if they were used for healthier foods; remove restrictions on felons obtaining food stamps in exchange for participating in substance abuse programs; and provide free breakfast and lunch for every student in public schools.

“It’s hard to reconcile the fact that 200,000 Nebraskans struggle with food insecurity when they’re living in America’s breadbasket,” the senators said in a joint statement.

Meet the Nebraska state senators

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Reporter - Regional/state issues

Paul covers state government and affiliated issues. He specializes in tax and transportation issues, following the governor and the state prison system. Follow him on Twitter @PaulHammelOWH. Phone: 402-473-9584.

Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

Related to this story

Some citizen groups want an independent, nonpartisan commission put in charge of redrawing political maps, similar to the process used in Iowa. Gov. Pete Ricketts doesn’t believe any changes are needed and said the Legislature "shouldn’t try to dodge" its constitutional duty of redistricting. State Sens. John McCollister of Omaha and Wendy DeBoer of Bennington favor a middle ground.

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