State claims bill considered

The Business and Labor Committee heard testimony March 20 on a bill that would authorize payment of claims against the state of Nebraska.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist17' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Joni Albrecht'>Sen. Joni Albrecht</a>
Sen. Joni Albrecht

If a person sues the state, he or she files with the state claims board. Approved claims exceeding $50,000 must be reviewed by the Legislature.

LB171, introduced by Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht, would approve approximately $294,000 in tort claims and a $395,000 miscellaneous claim. The miscellaneous claim would cover the constitutionally and statutorily required publishing of legal notices in newspapers across the state regarding the death penalty ballot measure voted on in the 2016 general election.

Among the tort claims included in the bill is $103,000 for an accident that occurred Feb. 4, 2016, when a state employee operating a truck collided with a vehicle. In addition, three separate accidents involving Nebraska state troopers are included in the bill, with claims totaling approximately $275,000.

Kyle Schneweis of the Nebraska Department of Roads testified in regard to the bill. He said the department expects an amendment that would include an approximately $2 million claim from a 2014 accident in Stanton County that left three people dead. The department was replacing and repairing stop signs and had omitted placing a stop sign at an intersection, resulting in the crash.

“We’re all very disappointed in this particular incident and we consider it to be a tragedy,” Schneweis said.

The bill also includes approximately $937,000 in agency write-offs for fiscal year 2016-17. That amount includes $792,000 in uncollectible debts from the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

DHHS attorney David McManaman, testifying in regard to the bill, said the majority of the cases involve individuals who were overpaid needs-based public benefits, which the state was unable to collect due to death, bankruptcy or a claim had exceeded the statute of limitations.

“With many of our clients – because they are in need of assistance – once the debt is out there, it’s going to be difficult to collect without taking out of one hand while at the same time providing assistance with the other,” he said.

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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