Can Nebraska Legislature Get to the Big Issues with Time Remaining?

Date: March 13, 2020

Property tax relief proposal resurfaces; Harmful joint/several liability amendment defeated

State Director Bob Hallstrom reports from Lincoln on the small-business agenda for the legislative week ending March 13

With two–thirds of the 2020 Legislative Session completed, lawmakers have precious little time to address a host of major issues still facing the Legislature. The Appropriations Committee budget proposal has advanced to the floor of the Legislature for consideration, a new property tax relief proposal has surfaced for renewed debate and economic development incentive legislation is waiting in the wings.

The Speaker of the Legislature has announced that late-night sessions will begin on March 18, with 13 late nights tentatively scheduled for the remainder of the session.

Budget Debate Commences

The Legislature has given first-round approval to proposed adjustments to Nebraska’s two–year budget. The measure advanced on a vote of 41-2 after lengthy debate. The proposed budget, contained within LB 1008, would more than double the state’s cash reserve, while leaving enough funds for the property tax relief plan being crafted by the Revenue Committee. If adopted, the budget would result in average annual spending growth of 3 percent and leave the Cash Reserve Fund at an estimated $731 million at the end of the two-year budget period.

Under legislative rules, adjustments to the biennium budget approved last year by the Legislature, must be advanced to General File by the 40th working day (March 12) and passed and sent on to Gov. Pete Ricketts by the 50th working day (April 1). Among the provisions contained within the Appropriations Committee budget proposal is an allocation of $10 million for the Rural Workforce Housing Investment Fund, which had originally been contained within LB 773, introduced by Sen. Matt Williams (Gothenburg).

Appropriations Committee Chairman John Stinner (Gehring) has filed an amendment to be considered during the second round of debate that would provide $10 million for public health needs and $10 million in emergency costs related to the pandemic.

Adverse Joint/Several Liability Amendment Turned Back

The Legislature voted down a proposed amendment to LB 912 that would have overturned long-standing limitations on joint and several liability for defendants to a lawsuit. A 2007 Nebraska Supreme Court decision in the case of Tadros v City of Omaha held that joint and several liability does not apply if all defendants, except one, settle prior to trial and an award is entered against the single remaining defendant. The court in Tadros determined that a plaintiff’s settlement with a joint co-defendant forfeits its right to “joint and several liability” and prohibits the plaintiff from recovering from the non–settling joint co-defendant more than that defendant’s proportionate share of the judgment.

An amendment to LB 912, proposed by Sen. Steve Lathrop (Omaha), would leave the one remaining defendant at trial subject to joint and several liability for the entire amount of the award, reduced only by the amount paid by the other defendants who settled out of court, rather than based upon a reduction based on the percentage of negligence attributable to the settling defendants. NFIB joined other business organizations and individual businesses in opposing the amendment, which was defeated on the following vote of 21–24 (with a “no” vote in accord with the NFIB position).

YES: Senators Bolz, Brandt, Cavanaugh, Chambers, Crawford, DeBoer, M. Hansen, Howard, Hunt, Kolowski, Kolterman, Lathrop, McCollister, McDonnell, Morfeld, Pansing Brooks, Quick, Vargas, Walz, Wayne, and Wishart

NO: Senators Albrecht, Arch, Bostelman, Briese, Clements, Dorn, Erdman, Friesen, Geist, Gragert, Groene, Halloran, B. Hansen, Hilgers, Hilkemann, La Grone, Lindstrom, Linehan, Lowe, Moser, Murman, Scheer, Stinner, and Williams

Excused – Not Voting: Senators Blood, Brewer, Hughes, and Slama

Property Tax Relief Back on Track?

It appears that property tax relief legislation may resurface on the legislative agenda next week. The Revenue Committee has proposed a 75-page amendment to a non-controversial sales tax cleanup bill, LB 1106, in an effort to draw additional support for the bill. While the amendment has yet to be distributed publicly, news reports indicate that reductions in state aid to schools for “transfer students” are less than contained within LB 974 and that limits on school expenditures would be set at 2 percent per annum, rather than being based upon the Consumer Price Index, as initially proposed under LB 974.

Previous Reports and News Releases

NFIB thanks its members who turned out for our annual Small Business Day at the Capitol, March 10, and a special thanks to the legislators who made the time to meet with them. Clockwise from the upper-left-hand corner, Speaker Jim Scheer, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, Sen. Mark Kolterman, and NFIB Nebraska State Director Bob Hallstrom.




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