A Grand Island attorney who has argued against the minimum wage was confirmed Thursday to a Nebraska labor relations commission.

State lawmakers approved Gregg Neuhaus to the Commission of Industrial Relations on a 27-19 vote.

The votes fell largely along party lines, with Republican senators backing Gov. Pete Ricketts’ selection and Democrats opposing him.

State Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, the Business and Labor Committee chairman, said several committee members had been concerned about Neuhaus’ lack of experience in labor law, a point cited by labor groups that spoke against the appointment.

The CIR is charged under the State Constitution with deciding disputes between public employees unions, which are barred from striking, and the governing bodies that employ them. State law requires commissioners to have knowledge and experience in legal, financial, labor and industrial matters.

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Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, an attorney, said Neuhaus acknowledged at his confirmation hearing that he had never worked on a labor contract or dealt with a labor dispute, although he has had a lengthy career as private practice attorney.

“He does not meet the qualifications,” Lathrop said.

Other senators pointed to Neuhaus’ comments as a 2016 candidate for the Legislature as evidence of bias. At a candidate event, Neuhaus advocated against a government-imposed minimum wage.

He urged workers to ensure their employment by showing up early and staying late on the job without pay.

“There clearly is a bias, and I think that’s cause for real concern,” said Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln.

But other senators defended the appointment, saying there have been previous commissioners without labor law experience. Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings said that with experience can come bias.

Sen. John Lowe of Kearney also defended his qualifications.

“He’s gruff and to the point, and he’s a good man,” Lowe said. “That ought to be enough.”

Neuhaus did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

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.

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