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Nebraska Lawmakers Debate Workers' Comp Coverage for Mental Trauma

OMAHA, Neb. -- Should the store clerk who sees a co-worker assassinated before her eyes be able to get workers' compensation benefits to help deal with resulting mental trauma?

What about the police officer who responds to an especially horrific accident?

Nebraska lawmakers debated those questions Wednesday without reaching a resolution. They are expected to resume the debate next week.

State Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue thinks the answer to those questions should be yes.

She is the main sponsor of Legislative Bill 1082, which would allow workers' compensation for employees who witness, or are the victims of, violent crimes on the job.

The bill also would allow workers' compensation for firefighters, law enforcement officers and other first-responders who encounter "extraordinary and unusual" conditions on the job.

"The basic premise of my bill is that mental injuries are real and can be every bit as painful as physical injuries," Cornett said. "It will not apply to a large number of cases, but for the cases where it will apply, it could literally be a lifesaver."

A number of senators questioned whether employers should have to pay for the suffering caused by crime.

Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha said the bill could dramatically expand workers' compensation, with unknown effects on its costs. He said it could apply to all the people who were at work and witnessed the 9/11 attacks, for example.

Under current Nebraska law, workers' compensation covers physical injuries and accompanying mental trauma. It does not cover mental trauma by itself.

At least 30 other states provide some coverage for mental trauma, Cornett said. LB 1082 would provide very limited coverage in comparison, she said.

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