Paid sick leave requirement falls short

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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January 21, 2020 - 5:03pm

A proposal to require Nebraska businesses to provide paid sick leave fell short Tuesday in the Legislature. A bill was introduced to provide up to $300 million dollars for a hospital and education center in Omaha. And senators heard a proposal to take pets away from people who abuse livestock.

Sen. Sue Crawford introduced the paid sick leave proposal would have required businesses with four or more employees to give employees one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked, up to a five days of per year. Crawford said 40 percent of employees in the state have no paid sick leave, and up to 70 percent of low-income workers don’t have it.

“To provide an ability to earn a week, or five days of paid sick days is a minimium standard that we should set in our state,” Crawford said.

The bill was opposed by lawmakers including Sen. John Lowe, who said it would be an unnecessary burden on small businesses.

“We don’t need the state government telling us what we need to do. We value our employees. They’re like family to all of us,” Lowe said.

Supporters got only 18 votes on a motion to stop debate. Under Speaker Jim Scheer’s policy, the bill was pulled off the agenda after three hours of debate. It would need a show of support from around 33 senators to be put back on, meaning the proposal is effectively dead for this year.

A proposal introduced Tuesday by Sen. Mark Kolterman would have the state provide up to $300 million toward a $2.6 billion project for a new hospital and education center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Kolterman said the idea is to help address a national need in times of emergency.

“There’s really very few centers in the United States that have a facility that can accommodate a high number of people – whether it’s (from) nuclear warfare or some sort of a chemical warfare, an Ebola-type of outbreak. This would build a facility – one of roughly five around the United States. We’d be on the cutting edge of that,” Kolterman said.

Kolterman said the state would contribute money only if the project receives federal funding and at least $300 million in private donations. He said it would provide a major boost to the state’s economy.

“We’re talking probably 40-some thousand jobs in the construction. We’re talking a $2.5 billion project, as I understand it, and we’d be adding approximately 7,000 high-paying jobs.”

Kolterman’s bill is cosponsored by 25 other senators, a majority of the Legislature. It says the intent would be for the state to start providing money two years from now. Gov. Pete Ricketts’ office said he’s aware of the project, but added his priority this year is property tax relief.

Tuesday afternoon, there was a public hearing on a proposal to say that if someone had their livestock taken away for abuse or neglect, a judge would also have to take away their other animals.

Sen. Julie Slama said she introduced the bill in response to a situation in which hogs and goats were found starved to death, reasoning that a person who did that could easily abuse other animals as well.

However, farm groups questioned the proposal, warning against mixing together laws governing the treatment of livestock, on the one hand, and household pets on the other.

The Agriculture Committee took no immediate action on the proposal.

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