Business and Labor

State claims bill amended, advanced

Several additional claims totaling more than $26 million were added during the second round of debate May 8 to a measure that would authorize payment of claims against the state.

Sen. Merv Riepe
Sen. Merv Riepe

If a person sues the state of Nebraska, he or she files a claim with the state claims board. Approved claims exceeding $50,000 must be reviewed by the Legislature. As amended during the first round of debate, LB282, sponsored by Ralston Sen. Merv Riepe, would approve 11 such claims and more than a dozen state agency write-offs totaling more than $3 million.

Riepe offered an amendment during select file debate to add the following four claims that became available for approval after the first round of debate:
• $18.75 million for a settlement agreement between the state and the Nebraska State Patrol to resolve a pension contribution rate lawsuit originally filed in 2011;
• $5.5 million to settle a 2019 lawsuit with technology developer Wipro over a terminated contract to upgrade the state’s Medicaid eligibility and enrollment management system;
• $250,000 for a line of duty payment to the family of a retired fire chief; and
• $25,000 for the claim of a state employee who worked at the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney.

Riepe noted that dollar amounts in the amendment were agreed to through settlements reviewed or litigated by the state attorney general’s office or relevant state agency.

Omaha Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh offered a series of amendments and motions to extend debate on Riepe’s amendment, none of which were adopted. Much of that discussion focused on the Wipro settlement.

The state Department of Health and Human Services terminated its contract with the company without cause in 2018 and Wipro sued the state for $15.5 million for services already provided. The parties then mediated the dispute.

Cavanaugh questioned the use of behavioral health aid funds to pay the resulting settlement costs. She said the rationale provided was that money was available and the lawsuit was related to health care.

“This is sort of the undercurrent theme of this year’s budget: we see money, we take money and we don’t ask too many questions,” she said.

Sen. Danielle Conrad of Lincoln also expressed concern about the source of funding to settle the Wipro lawsuit. Typically, state claims are paid through general funds because they represent a broad state responsibility, she said, and not doing so should raise a number of concerns.

“If there are [more than] $5 million in unobligated behavioral health funds sitting in the Department of Health and Human Services, we should be asking harder and deeper questions about why those are not being pushed out to meet the behavioral health needs of Nebraskans,” Conrad said.

After four hours of select file debate, Riepe offered a motion to invoke cloture, which ceases debate and forces a vote on the bill and any pending amendments. The motion was adopted 43-0. Senators then voted 45-0 to adopt the Riepe amendment and advanced LB282 to final reading 44-0.

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