Heineman threatens to veto CIR bill

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May 15, 2011 - 7:00pm

Governor Dave Heineman says he'll veto a bill to reform the Commission of Industrial Relations unless it's changed.
Most times, when reporters ask the governor if he'll sign or veto a particular piece of legislation, he declines to answer, saying he'll wait to see what the details are when it reaches his desk. But when it comes to Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop's proposal to change the Commission of Industrial Relations, or CIR, things are different. In fact, the governor called a telephone news conference specifically to telegraph what he would do with the legislation, known as LB397. "Senator Lathrop's current version of LB397 is unacceptable. And I will veto it if the bill reaches my desk," Heineman said.
The CIR can order wage settlements when government and public employees reach an impasse. But cities have complained the settlements are unpredictable and raise their costs.
Lathrop has proposed reforms including a wage freeze if the CIR finds total compensation, including health care and pensions, is above that of comparable employees elsewhere. Business groups have said that doesn't go far enough. Heineman said he agrees, adding "Real reform is possible if LB397 is amended to include changes similar to the amendment submitted by Nebraska's business leaders."
At the heart of the latest version of those changes is a proposal unveiled by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. It would restrict the CIR's power to order pay changes to only those cases where compensation is more than 15 percent above or below what's paid for comparable jobs elsewhere. If compensation is within 15 percent either way, public employers could adjust pay and benefits on their own.
Heineman accused Lathrop of intransigence for his stand on the CIR legislation. Reached for reaction, Lathrop said he didn't want to turn the issue into an issue between the governor and himself. Instead the senator, a Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, referred the call to Sen. Dennis Utter of Hastings, who, like the governor, is a Republican.
Utter serves on the same task force as Lathrop that has been negotiating with labor and management on the bill. He questioned Heineman's characterization of Lathrop as intransigent. "I feel like through the process Sen. Lathrop has been very fair and has tried to consider all sides of this issue," Utter said.
Utter added that the legislation could still be changed. "I think at the end of the day, the important thing is that we achieve something that is fair to everyone," he said. "Fair to taxpayers, fair to the municipal governments, to the state government, to the school systems, to the teachers, and to the employees who work for all these units of government."
But there are only 11 days left in this year's legislative session. And both business and labor groups have talked about taking the issue to the voters next year if something that satisfies those groups is not passed this year.

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