A proposal moving through the Legislature would exempt businesses from liability for high school students participating in work-based learning programs.

The House commerce committee passed a bill Monday granting businesses immunity to liability for students working in internships, practicums, apprenticeships and other programs through their high school. The bill would instead put liability on students and the school district.

Rep. Bradley Ralph, R-Dodge City, said the point of the legislation is to encourage businesses that are hesitant to work with teenagers to embrace programs that prepare students for the workforce.

“In most instances businesses haven’t participated at this point because that’s their objection,” Ralph said. “They don’t have a way to limit their liability.”

The committee amended the bill following two proposals by Ralph.

School districts will be required to purchase applicable insurance to create immunity for businesses, and students will be responsible for civil liability. The bill previously was written to grant students immunity, putting liability entirely on the district.

“While they could be liable in the school, in the shop, why should they not be in the business?” said committee chairman Sean Tarwater, R-Stilwell. “Why should the school then be responsible?”

In an incident of gross negligence or willful misconduct, the liability would fall solely on the student.

In the House Education Committee, Rep. Steve Huebert, R-Valley Center, said the Legislature ought to consider adding a new layer of professional liability protection for licensed educator and certified student teachers.

Insurance premiums for this "excess" coverage for public school district educators would be financed by the state under House Bill 2572, he said.

"Kansas educators work hard every day and they need the peace of mind that they are protected from lawsuits resulting from simply performing the work they are assigned to do," Huebert said. "Liability protection is a benefit that all teachers deserve."

He said public school educators had liability protection from school district employers and educators who belong to a professional teachers' union. However, he said, not all educators want to be part of a union and wouldn't get that second-tier coverage.

Marjorie Blaufuss, general counsel at Kansas-National Education Association, said the state's tort claims act capped the amount a litigant could recover from a school district at $500,000 unless excess insurance coverage was in place.

"Although this bill's stated intent is to provide additional protection for teachers," Blaufuss said, "one cannot help but wonder if added insurance coverage by the state will encourage lawsuits against teachers due to the 'deep pockets' the state of Kansas has now made available to litigants."