Session Review 2023Urban Affairs

Session Review: Urban Affairs

Grant funding for pandemic recovery projects, changes to community development law and two museum proposals were among the measures bundled into an omnibus Urban Affairs Committee bill this session.

LB531, introduced by Omaha Sen. Terrell McKinney, makes a number of clean-up changes to the Economic Recovery Act passed by the Legislature in 2022, which provided funding for pandemic recovery projects in North and South Omaha and other communities that were disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among other provisions, LB531 authorizes a grant of up to $20 million for federally qualified health centers in a metropolitan class city and an additional $30 million to develop a business park within two miles of a major airport in a metropolitan class city. Omaha currently is the only city in the state classified as metropolitan by population.

The bill creates the North and South Omaha Grant Recovery Program and provides funds for the Economic Recovery and Incentive Division to provide relief to entities negatively affected by the pandemic. Priority will be given to small business development, job creation and economic growth opportunities.

LB531 also requires the state Game and Parks Commission to construct, develop and manage a museum and visitor center honoring Chief Standing Bear, and authorizes use of up to $15 million from the investment earnings on the Perkins County Canal Project Fund in fiscal year 2025-26 for the cost of construction, exhibit fabrication, historical interpretation and staffing.

A grant of up to $20 million also is authorized to create a museum within the boundaries of a qualified census tract in a metropolitan class city in honor of a person inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame on or before June 30, 2023.

Malcolm X was selected in 2022 for induction into the Nebraska Hall of Fame.

LB531 was amended to include the provisions of several additional bills that provide millions in new grant funds and programs designed to spur economic development across the state.

Under the provisions of Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne’s LB474, the state Game and Parks Commission is required to purchase or receive the Mayhew Cabin historical site and subsequently rehabilitate and manage it.

The provisions of LB98 also are included in the omnibus bill. Originally introduced by North Platte Sen. Mike Jacobson, the measure allows the governing body of a city that opts to allow the expedited review of redevelopment plans to establish a limit on the number of redevelopment plans they can approve annually.

The governing body also has the authority to deny a redevelopment plan if it will exceed the established annual limit, if the area being developed is not designated as blighted and substandard or if the redevelopment plan is inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

The bill also clarifies that more than one lot within an area of a substandard and blighted study can be designated as substandard and blighted without an additional study or public hearing.

Lawmakers amended LB531 to included provisions from several additional measures considered by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, including:
• LB33, introduced by Jacobson, which allows the mayor of a first or second class city to vote on any matter that requires a majority vote of the city council if there is an absence or if the council is equally divided. The provisions do not allow the mayor to vote when a super-majority vote of the council is required;
• LB45, introduced by Adams Sen. Myron Dorn, which creates the Revitalize Rural Nebraska Grant Fund for first and second class cities and villages and provides $1 million in general funds for grants to demolish dilapidated commercial properties;
• LB170, introduced by McKinney, which harmonizes the definition of a blighted area under the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority Act and the state’s Community Development Law;
• LB223, also introduced by McKinney, which requires all cities that adopt an affordable housing action plan to submit their plan to the Urban Affairs Committee electronically and provides an option in the report to show effort toward an affordable housing action plan or intent to implement such a plan after it is adopted;
• LB329, sponsored by Sen. Jane Raybould of Lincoln, which prohibits the state building code from limiting the use of refrigerants that have been accepted under federal law as of Jan. 1, 2023 — as long as any equipment containing such refrigerant is listed and installed in accordance with safety standards and use conditions;
• LB342, introduced by Gering Sen. Brian Hardin, which updates the state’s home inspector registration renewal requirement from every even-numbered year to every two years and provides a 45-day window prior to the expiration to complete the renewal process;
• LB346, introduced by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, which updates the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act by expanding the definition of a qualifying business to include cities with up to 5,000 residents;
• LB462, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Danielle Conrad, which updates the Middle Income Workforce Housing Investment Act by increasing the qualifying cost of total construction expenses for owner-occupied housing units from no more than $275,000 to $330,000;
• LB532, sponsored by McKinney, which makes a number of changes to the state’s Community Development Law, including: requiring an “extremely blighted” designation to last for at least 25 years; extending the deadline from 24 months to 60 months for housing studies in all but metropolitan class cities; and placing limits on the creation of new redevelopment plans in areas already designated as blighted; and
• LB629, also sponsored by McKinney, which updates the Middle Income and Workforce Housing Investment Act and Economic Recovery Act.

Finally, the bill amends the Nebraska Rural Projects Act and provides up to $5 million in state matching funds for site acquisition, preparation and rail spur construction for a site within 30 miles of the state’s largest reservoir.

LB531 passed on a 37-8 vote and took effect immediately.

Other measures

LB224, introduced by McKinney, would create the Aid to Municipalities Act to be administered by the state Department of Economic Development. Under the act, municipalities in Nebraska would be eligible to apply for state grants to fund qualifying infrastructure projects within their city or village.

The bill also would create the Aid to Municipalities Fund and states legislative intent to appropriate $15 million each fiscal year to fund the program and help defray administrative expenses incurred by DED. An individual grant could not exceed $5 million and must be used exclusively to pay for construction or bonds related to an approved project.

Also introduced by McKinney, LB246 would require a sanitary and improvement district located just outside the corporate boundaries of a municipality — known as the city’s extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction — to comply with the comprehensive development plan, affordable housing action plan, municipal zoning regulations and any other reasonable planning requirements established by the municipality.

Under the bill, an SID located within the ETJ of multiple municipalities would be subject to the regulations of the municipality with the largest population according to the most recent census data.

LB224 and LB246 were advanced from committee and placed on general file but were not scheduled for debate.

Three other bills remain in committee.

LB274, sponsored by Bellevue Sen. Rick Holdcroft, would allow veterans who have been issued a Disabled American Veteran license plate to park in handicapped designated stalls.

LB424, introduced by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, would create the state Department of Housing and Urban Development to serve as the lead state agency for programs related to housing and homelessness. A director would be appointed by the governor and subject to confirmation by the Legislature.

Finally, Conrad’s LB546 would redefine a bed-and-breakfast establishment to include a single-family residence that provides breakfast and sleeping accommodations to no more than 20 guests, or ten guest rooms, at one time.

Under current state law, a bed-and-breakfast wishing to serve hot food must install a fire sprinkler system in each room of their establishment. LB546 would limit that requirement to rooms containing only one exit. The bill also would outline appropriate safe food handling practices.

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