Police chase debate continues; payday lending proposal previewed


February 9th, 2016

The Nebraska Legislature considers liability in police chases (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

The Nebraska Legislature considers liability in police chases (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Nebraska lawmakers are continuing to debate who should be regarded as an innocent third party when someone is injured or killed in a police chase. And lawmakers are preparing to hear a proposal to limit the costs of so-called payday loans.


Currently, if someone is a passenger in a car that’s being chased by police, the city that employs those police officers is liable if that passenger is injured or killed.

Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse wants to change that. His proposal, LB188, would say certain people should be excluded from the definition of “innocent third party.” Watermeier said those people could still sue the city, but not be considered automatically eligible for benefits. “All injured persons will still be able to sue the governmental entity responsible for the chase. The intent behind LB188 is to prevent only those persons who are passengers in a fleeing vehicle, and who are truly not innocent, from collecting,” Watermeier said.

Watermeier cited a 2012 Nebraska Supreme Court decision to support his argument. In that case, a car being chased by police flipped over, leaving the passenger a quadriplegic. That passenger was later found to be in possession of methamphetamine and a pipe.

Platte County argued therefore he was not an innocent third party. The court disagreed, but said the Legislature was free to change the definition.

Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue argued against changing the law. “Someone who has been charged with felonies or someone who is drunk may not be the most sympathetic character. And the news write-up of that person getting their injuries paid may not be the most politically popular. But the issue is, that person is still a human being,” Crawford said. “If that person is harmed while we are pursuing our public safety, that person is still deserving of having those injuries addressed.”

Watermeier’s bill would say a passenger who has engaged in conduct chargeable as a felony before entering the fleeing vehicle is not automatically entitled to recover damages from taxpayers. He said he’s simply shifting the burden of proof. “If there’s an accident today, any passenger in that vehicle, no matter what they may have done to cause the pursuit; what they may have done to even (the) day before, year before been involved in something illegal, they are automatically considered innocent,” Watermeier said. Under his bill, “To me you’re not automatically saying they’re guilty. But you’re allowing for that process that they will have to prove that they are not guilty.”

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who sponsored legislation making cities liable 35 years ago, said attempts to weaken were unnecessary and unworkable.

Chambers focused on another exception Watermeier’s bill would create, withdrawing automatic coverage from a passenger who failed to take reasonable steps to get the fleeing driver to stop. “How do you know what’s a reasonable step if we who pass it into law don’t tell you what it is?” Chambers asked. “Are you supposed to grab the steering wheel? If it’s a stick shift like I’ve got, are you supposed to get someplace and take the car out of gear? Reach over and step on the clutch so that the engine will race, but it won’t go any faster, at least? Are you supposed to reach over and put your foot on the brake?”

Chambers has promised to force supporters of the bill to invoke cloture, cutting off debate to vote on the bill. At this point, it looks like that vote will take place Wednesday morning.

Monday afternoon, senators got a preview of a bill on payday lending that will be heard Tuesday by the Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee. The proposal by Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell limits monthly payments to 5 percent of borrowers’ income and lets lenders charge interest up to 36 percent per year with a maximum monthly fee of $20.

Nick Bourke of the Pew Charitable Trusts said similar proposals have helped borrowers in other states, like Colorado. “Multi-state companies control 70 percent of the market in this state. And they are charging Nebraskans three times what they charge – the same companies charge – residents in other states,” Bourke said.

The bill is opposed by the Nebraska Financial Services Association, which represents payday lenders. Association President Brad Hill says after Colorado passed similar legislation in 2010, two-thirds of the payday lenders in the state went out of business, and Nebraska’s bill is even more restrictive.

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