LINCOLN — Opponents of a bill making it harder for passengers hurt in high-speed police chases to collect damages used a filibuster Thursday to derail the measure.

The bill had the support of the City of Omaha and other local governments because it sought to block automatic payments to those engaged in criminal conduct while riding in vehicles fleeing authorities.

Legislative Bill 188 overcame a filibuster and advanced with solid majority support on the first of three rounds, but stalled Thursday because it lacked the 33 votes needed to halt a debate. The second-round vote to stop the filibuster was 31-9.

State Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse, who sponsored the bill, said two of the senators he counted on for support were among the five lawmakers with excused absences Thursday. Watermeier expressed disappointment but said he will likely reintroduce the measure next year.

The bill would have added reasons to exclude certain passengers from claiming to be “innocent third parties” in chases. It would have prevented them from collecting damages if they were wanted for arrest or they engaged in felony conduct immediately before or during the police pursuit.

Under current law, only those passengers who are proven to have urged the driver to flee police are prevented from recovering taxpayer dollars for their injuries. On rare occasions, those convicted of felonies after the pursuit were still able to win damages.

The bill would not have prevented injured pedestrians or passengers in other vehicles from collecting damages.

The bill would not have had an impact on many cases; still, judgments in such cases can run into seven figures.

Nebraska is the only state that makes governmental subdivisions strictly liable for such injuries. The strict liability law was sponsored in 1981 by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.

Chambers led the filibuster of Watermeier’s bill, arguing that the original law was working as intended. He also used the rules of debate to prevent lawmakers from considering a compromise amendment offered by Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha.

Mello said the amendment had the support of lobbyists for local governments and trial attorneys, who had been on opposite sides of the bill.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9587, joe.duggan@owh.com

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