Legislature advances two bills including flood-relief provisions

April 10, 2019

The Legislature on Tuesday cleared a path for additional relief for Nebraskans impacted by last month’s historic storm and flood damage.

After conducting negotiations openly during floor debate and in conversational huddles, senators advanced a bill (LB334) designed to increase appropriations for the state’s business innovation program by $4 million a year.

But that initial approval came with the understanding that the bill would be amended at second-stage floor consideration to funnel the first year’s funding into the governor’s emergency cash fund to help support disaster relief.

Earlier, senators advanced a bill (LB512) modernizing state tax laws after agreeing to include a provision that clears the way for a reduction in property tax assessments for Nebraskans whose property was destroyed or damaged by flooding and recent storms.

That measure moved ahead when Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha lifted what appeared to be a filibuster after admonishing his colleagues for displaying an apparent lack of concern for other Nebraskans.

Chambers has urged his fellow senators to reverse themselves and approve bills to increase the minimum wage for workers who rely on tips, prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and provide food assistance benefits for people with drug convictions.

“Give me what I want and y’all be through with this the rest of the session,” Chambers said.

The amendment providing for a reduction in the assessed value of property to reflect the damage that had been sustained was authored by Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard.

“This is an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives,” Erdman said.

“Nebraskans are hurting,” Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said. “We should do everything we can to help.”

The bill ultimately was advanced on a 42-0 vote.

Sen. John Stinner of Gering sponsored the bill to increase funding for the state’s business innovation program by eliminating a less-successful “angel investment” tax credit program and transferring its $4 million in approved costs.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha urged the Legislature to adopt an amendment that instead would transfer that $4 million into the governor’s emergency cash fund.

Linehan and Stinner subsequently agreed to a single year’s transfer into the emergency fund before the funding is allocated to business innovation with the understanding that amendment would be attached at second-stage floor consideration.

Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg said the kind of business innovation that is visible on Nebraska Innovation Campus is “the path to property tax relief” in the future.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue urged her colleagues not to “lose sight of our long-term needs in growing the state.”

Sen. Julie Slama of Peru said that $4 million is needed to “help rebuild the state.”

“Tax relief is economic development,” Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte said.

In agreeing to Linehan’s single-year amendment, Stinner said he believes that represents a good compromise.

The bill was advanced on a 41-0 vote.