Session Review 2019Urban Affairs

Session Review: Urban Affairs

Senators authorized creation of a new regional transit authority, addressed blighted properties, updated building codes and approved a constitutional amendment ballot question this session.

Urban Affairs Committee chairperson Sen. Justin Wayne

Mass transit

Lawmakers overrode a gubernatorial veto of a bill adopting the Regional Metropolitan Transit Authority Act.

Under LB492, introduced by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, an existing transit authority that serves one or more municipalities located within the same metropolitan statistical area or combined statistical area can convert to a RMTA. Omaha has the only transit authority created under existing state law that falls under the bill’s provisions.

An ordinance to create, join or leave a RMTA will require a two-thirds vote of the governing authority of each municipality involved. If a RMTA is created, it will be governed by a seven-person elected board and have the power to issue revenue bonds.

LB492 passed 32-11 and subsequently was vetoed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Senators voted 33-16 to override the veto.

Economic development

A bill designed to rejuvenate economically disadvantaged areas passed this session.

LB87, introduced by Wayne and passed 49-0, requires that the state Department of Economic Development provide a preference for grant applications at least partially located within an opportunity zone as designated by the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Projects that are located in an opportunity zone and meet the program requirements for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Business Innovation Act, the Job Training Cash Fund and the Site and Building Development Fund are given priority consideration for funding under the bill.

Lawmakers also passed a bill allowing municipalities to use local tax revenue for early childhood development infrastructure.

LB160, introduced by Grand Island Sen. Dan Quick, expands the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, which allows first and second class cities and villages to use local tax dollars for economic development projects through voter-approved grants and loans.

The bill, which passed 36-7, adds early childhood development infrastructure to the law’s scope.

A bill to authorize land banks stalled on general file. LB424, also introduced by Quick, would allow any municipality in Nebraska to create a land bank—a tax-exempt political subdivision that acquires, manages and develops vacant and tax-delinquent properties—or join an existing land bank. Currently, only municipalities in Douglas and Sarpy counties are eligible to create land banks under state law.

The bill also would specify that a land bank is prohibited from levying property taxes.

Under LB424, only a metropolitan class city could create a stand-alone land bank. Currently, Omaha is the state’s only metropolitan class city. Other municipalities wishing to create a land bank would be required to join together using the state’s Interlocal Cooperation Act.

After three hours of debate, Quick offered a cloture motion, which would have ended debate and forced a vote on the bill. The motion failed 31-10. Thirty-three votes were needed.

LB66, introduced by Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, would require that early childhood development be included in a city’s comprehensive development plan by 2022.

The bill failed to advance to select file on a vote of 19-23.

Building codes

Wayne introduced LB96, which makes the state building code applicable in any county, city or village that does not adopt a building code within two years of an update to the state building code. Any building that is on a farm or is used for farm purposes is exempt. Senators approved the bill 39-0.

Quick introduced LB348, which adopts the 2018 version of the International Building Code, the International Residential Code and the International Existing Building Code as published by the International Code Council. Currently, Nebraska is using the 2012 edition of the ICC codes. The bill passed 41-6.

A bill that requires the state’s building code to include standards for radon-resistant construction for new residential, commercial, educational and medical structures passed 40-4.

Introduced by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, LB130 adopts standards recommended by the Radon Resistant New Construction Task Force. The bill also incorporates those standards into the state building code and requires local building codes to adopt minimum standards.

The bill exempts new construction projects designed by a licensed architect or engineer, non-residential buildings if a local building official deems radon-resistant construction unnecessary and new construction projects in counties with an average radon concentration of less than 2.7 picocuries per liter of air.

Other measures

A proposed constitutional amendment will appear on the November 2020 general election ballot under a measure passed this session.

If approved by voters, LR14CA, introduced by Wayne, will authorize the Legislature to extend the maximum repayment period for tax-increment financing indebtedness from 15 to 20 years if more than half of the property in a project area is designated as extremely blighted. The measure was approved 43-2.

LB23 made changes to the Property Assessed Clean Energy Act. The bill, introduced by Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, adds new public purpose language to the PACE Act and changes the classification of co-generation and tri-generation systems from a renewable energy resource to an energy efficiency improvement. The bill passed 45-0.

LB57, introduced by Sen. Adam Morfeld of Lincoln, prevents municipal bans on short-term rentals, defined as 30 or fewer consecutive days. Municipalities still may regulate short-term rental properties for health and safety reasons and the bill does not affect regulation of homeowners’ associations. The bill passed on a vote of 46-0.

Nebraska municipalities must report the impact of occupation taxes under LB445, introduced by Omaha Sen. Mike McDonnell. The bill requires an annual report detailing:
• all occupation taxes collected by the municipality;
• the amount generated annually by each occupation tax;
• whether funds generated are deposited in the municipality’s general, cash or other funds;
• whether an occupation tax is dedicated for a specific purpose and the amount dedicated; and
• the scheduled or projected termination date of each occupation tax.

LB445 passed on a vote of 42-0.

LB85, introduced by Wayne, would require that most residential rental properties in metropolitan and primary class cities be registered with the city and inspected at least every three years. The bill advanced from committee but was not scheduled for debate. It remains on general file.

Another Wayne bill, LB136, remains in committee. The bill would incentivize affordable housing projects by providing residential density increases and regulatory concessions, as well as incentives for developments that include a certain percentage of income-restricted rental units for low-income residents.

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