The Legislature inched its way Friday toward advancement of a proposal to provide a reduction in property taxes for Nebraskans whose property was destroyed or damaged by last month's record floods.

"This is an opportunity to help people" who have suffered unprecedented losses from the blizzard and rainfall that triggered flooding across a wide swath of the state, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard said.

"They need our help," Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said.

The relief would come in the form of a reduction in the assessed value of the property to reflect the damage sustained.

In all likelihood, Erdman said, the value of that property would subsequently be higher than it had been because of repairs and improvements. 

Any concerns about the impact on county and school district funding, which could be neutralized by a small increase in the property tax mill levy, should not stand in the way of providing some tax relief for individuals whose homes and other property were damaged or destroyed, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn said.

"They are scooping mud out of their homes and putting their treasures in their dumpsters," Linehan said.

"I don't care if my property taxes go up (slightly) for a year or two to cover people who have lost everything," she said.

Advancement of the bill (LB512) was delayed by a filibuster mounted by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who said he would release his hold if senators would 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," Chambers said.

Speaker Jim Scheer of Norfolk said the bill would remain on the legislative agenda despite Friday's filibuster. That's a signal that the measure clearly has sufficient support to move ahead.

The original bill contains a package of changes requested by the Department of Revenue and it is sponsored by Linehan, chairwoman of the Revenue Committee.

Erdman's amendment was offered long before the March flooding, but took on new urgency in the wake of the natural disaster.

"There's been a vast amount of destruction," Erdman said, but the people who have suffered losses "still have to pay property taxes."

"This is an opportunity to give those people a break," he said, "an opportunity to make a difference in people's lives."  

If its enactment triggers a temporary increase in property tax levies, Erdman said, he believes neighbors will be willing to pick up a slightly smaller portion of the load until that damaged property is restored or improved.

"The last thing they need is a tax bill for a house that doesn't exist anymore," Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna said. 

"It's a fairness bill," Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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