Urban affairs omnibus bill advances

A bill intended to resolve a technical conflict in state law was amended to become an omnibus municipal governance measure and advanced from general file May 5.

Sen. Megan Hunt
Sen. Megan Hunt

LB131, introduced by Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha, would add “or as otherwise provided by law” to the list of reasons a municipality can waive reading an ordinance three times before its adoption.

“It is a problem that we have to correct because currently our statutes are out of date and cities and villages can possibly be in violation of the law without knowing it,” Hunt said.

An Urban Affairs Committee amendment, adopted 32-6, added provisions of six other bills:
• LB99, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, which would exempt areas designated as extremely blighted from the maximum percentage of a city or village that may be designated blighted under the Community Development Law;
• LB161, introduced by the committee, which would make several technical changes to the Building Construction Act;
• LB162, also introduced by the committee, which would establish uniform procedures to detach territory from a municipality’s corporate limits;
• LB218, introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne, which would adopt the 2018 Uniform Plumbing Code as the state’s default code;
• LB549, also introduced by Wayne, which would allow municipalities that operate a natural gas plant or natural gas system to apply to the state for emergency grant funding to cover up to 90 percent of extraordinary costs associated with an extreme weather event and provide a one-time, $10 million general fund transfer to fund the grants; and
• LB556, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Matt Hanson, which would clarify that municipalities may add requirements to a redevelopment contract to comply with their comprehensive redevelopment plan, affordable housing action plan or other goals established by the municipality.

Wayne said the provisions of his LB549 would help a number of small Nebraska communities that were hard hit by a surge in natural gas costs during a period of extreme cold weather in February.

Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson offered an amendment to remove those provisions from the bill. He said cities have profited in the past from operating their own natural gas service and should be responsible to cover losses.

“If these communities want to run their own system, they have to take these risks that come with the territory,” Friesen said. “I feel like we’re bailing them out.”

Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman supported the amendment, saying the high costs associated with February’s polar vortex were due to mismanagement.

“We’re talking about a private business that made a poor decision not to plan for a calamity,” Erdman said.

Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht opposed Friesen’s amendment, saying that cities didn’t know the cost of providing natural gas until after February’s weather event ended.

“Are we willing to allow them to bankrupt themselves?” she said.

Wayne also opposed the amendment. Smaller Nebraska cities “did everything right” but were not allowed to buy extra natural gas reserves in advance and had no choice but to purchase extremely expensive natural gas from the marketplace, he said.

The Friesen amendment failed on a vote of 8-29.

Wayne offered an amendment that would reduce grant funding under the bill to $5 million. The amendment was adopted 40-0.

Senators then advanced LB131 to select file on a 28-10 vote.

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