Since my last column, a couple of my bills have moved forward. My daylight saving time bill moved out of committee last week, and we had the opportunity to debate several bills on the floor of the legislature on the morning of February 16. My bill to enhance military reservist tuition credits passed first round consideration on the floor with a vote of 42-0. Otherwise, all day committee hearings continue.
Last week, I presented my Covid 19 Liability Protection Act to the Judiciary committee. In an effort to facilitate recovery from the pandemic, the Act would provide our businesses, health care providers, first responders, schools and others with a measure of protection from needless and frivolous lawsuits alleging covid exposure. In a nutshell, it would require that in any such causes of action arising after the date of the Act, a plaintiff would have to establish by clear and convincing evidence that a defendant acted with gross negligence or wilful misconduct which caused the plaintiff’s exposure to Covid. It would not impact employer/employee relationships otherwise covered by workmen’s comp, and it would sunset no later than the end of 2022.. This bill was supported by the Chamber of Commerce and countless business, school, and health care groups, among others, who expressed their concern over the threat of such lawsuits. Predictably, the main opposition was from the trial attorneys, who fear anything that resembles tort reform. With the enormity of support from our businesses, health care providers and schools, it's difficult to think the bill can’t make it out of committee in some form.
I do have several bills intended to make progress on the issue of property tax relief. But the reality is that our property tax crisis is primarily a result of our failure to properly fund K-12 education at the state level. I’ve introduced LR 21 CA to address this very issue. It would place on the ballot a constitutional amendment to require the state of Nebraska to pay all classroom expenses. If adopted by the voters, it would force the state to pay for an amount that would roughly equal teacher salaries and benefits, textbooks, computers, and classroom supplies. These items typically constitute about 66% of an average school’s budget. It would inject additional state dollars into each school district in Nebraska, and especially into unequalized districts that currently receive no equalization aid.
Classroom expenses are estimated at roughly $2.7 billion statewide. However, we already inject about $1.1 billion into K-12 education through our current TEEOSA formula and about $230 million into special education. Additionally, we soon will be funding property tax relief programs to the tune of over $800 million. If the above funds were dedicated to satisfying the requirements of LR 21 CA, the state would have to find an additional $500 million to meet its obligations.
I’ve met with representatives of various school organizations, and pointed out that this amendment would positively impact education as it would leave in place local taxing authority and statutes governing collective bargaining. School spending would continue to be constrained by current limits on budget authority. Overall, education should win under this proposal, and it would provide very significant property tax relief, especially to rural Nebraska. I believe this should be placed on the ballot to give Nebraskans the opportunity to vote on this proposal.
As always, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling my office at (402)471-2631.