Welcome

January 7th, 2015

The Urban Affairs Committee is responsible for processing legislation involving the following subject areas:

  • state natural gas regulation
  • cities and villages; organization; powers and services; officers and employees; funds; annexation and zoning; planning
  • sanitary and improvement districts
  • Metropolitan Utilities District; Business Improvement District Act
  • housing authorities
  • community antenna television service
  • handicapped parking (for municipal responsibilities)
  • tax increment financing

During session, the Urban Affairs Committee meets on Tuesdays in Room 1510 on the 1st Floor of the Capitol.

Urban Affairs Committee 2015 Session Summary Report is Now Available

June 24th, 2015
The Urban Affairs Committee’s 2015 Session Summary report is now available on the Urban Affairs Committee reports page: http://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/reports/urban.php
The report includes summaries for all bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, as well as a breakdown of bills by subject matter, a detailed index and status update for all bills, and a list of interim studies referred to the Urban Affairs Committee.

Urban Affairs Priority Bill Passed into Law

April 24th, 2015

LB 324, a bill introduced by Senator John McCollister, would allow sanitary and improvement districts (SIDs) to contract for solid waste collection services, aka garbage collection.  An Urban Affairs Committee priority bill, the bill as amended also includes the provisions of two other SID-related bills heard by this committee this session, including LB 420, a bill I introduced to provide new homebuyers with information about SIDs when they purchase a home located in an SID.  LB 324 passed on a 44-3 vote.

This Week in Urban Affairs

March 26th, 2015

On Wednesday, the Legislature advanced LB 152, one of the Urban Affairs Committee’s two committee priority bills for the session.  LB 152, which authorizes cities and villages to borrow directly from banks and other financial institutions, would help smaller cities and villages that run into cash-flow issues when, for example, a city-owned vehicle breaks down and must be quickly replaced.  Nebraska generally follows the legal doctrine known as Dillon’s Rule, which means that municipalities may only exercise those powers that are expressly granted to them by the state – without authorization, cities and villages would be unable to borrow from local banks located in their communities.

While LB 152 was one of the first bills heard this session by the Urban Affairs Committee, it was also one of the bills that was discussed most often by the committee in executive session.  Most borrowing by cities and villages currently comes in the form of municipal bonds, many types of which must be approved by the voters.  Committee members were initially concerned that without some type of limitation, direct borrowing could be used as an “end around” for cities to avoid traditional bond financing.  To address those concerns, the committee spent a significant amount of time working on the bill to place reasonable restrictions on municipalities’ ability to borrow directly from banks.

LB 152 provides a perfect example of the role that committees play in the legislative process.  Prior to advancing the bill, the committee carefully crafted amendment language that balanced the need for flexible municipal financing tools with ensuring transparency in local budgeting and avoiding the possibility that municipalities would use direct borrowing to avoid going to the voters.  While direct borrowing represents an important new tool in the toolbox for municipalities, the work of the committee ensures that traditional bond financing will continue to be used in cases where it is clearly warranted.

This Week in Urban Affairs

March 20th, 2015

In addition to senator and committee priority bills, the Speaker of the Legislature can designate an additional 25 bills each session as speaker priority bills.  Among the bills designated as a speaker priority this session was LB 540, a bill that I introduced as Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee to update the state building code.

Like most states, Nebraska has adopted as its state building code a series of model codes published by the International Codes Council, a national association that develops model building codes and standards.  The current state building code consists of three such model codes: 1) the International Building Code, or IBC, which covers all new construction except one- and two-family dwellings; 2) the International Residential Code, or IRC, which covers new construction of one- and two-family dwellings; and 3) the International Existing Building Code, or IEBC, which covers repair, alteration, addition, and change of occupancy for existing buildings.  New editions of these codes are published every three years, and the state has currently adopted the 2009 versions of the codes, with the exception of the residential fire sprinkler mandate in the IRC.

LB 540 would update the state building code by adopting the 2012 versions of the IBC, IRC, and IEBC, with two exceptions.  First, the bill would not adopt provisions in the 2012 IBC and IRC which correspond with the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), as the current state energy code is the 2009 IECC.

Second, LB 540 would not adopt the residential fire sprinkler mandate in the 2012 IRC.  Under current law, the state building code does not include the fire sprinkler mandate, but political subdivisions have the ability to “opt in” to the fire sprinkler mandate.  LB 540 would retain this “opt in” option for local governments.

This Week in Urban Affairs

March 13th, 2015

In addition to each senator’s personal priority bill, each standing committee of the Legislature can designate two bills as committee priority bills.  While committee priority designations are at the discretion of the committee chair, most committee priority bills tend to be consensus bills that have the unanimous support of committee members.  This is the case with both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills this session.

Another common feature of committee priority bills is what is referred to as a “christmas tree” bill.  With more than 650 bills introduced in a typical session, committees will often combine multiple bills dealing with the same subject into one bill.  One of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills, LB 324, is an example of a “christmas tree” bill, as it combines three bills dealing with sanitary and improvement districts (SIDs):

  • LB 324:  Provide authority to SIDs to contract for solid waste collection services

  • LB 197:  Provide additional powers to certain SIDs

  • LB 420:  Require acknowledgments from purchasers of real estate in a SID

The Urban Affairs Committee’s second priority bill this session is LB 152, a bill that would authorize cities and villages to borrow directly from banks and other financial institutions.  While most municipal borrowing comes in the form of municipal bonds, many smaller cities and villages run into cash flow issues when, for example, a city-owned vehicle breaks down and must be quickly replaced.  As amended by the committee, LB 152 provides municipalities with the authority to utilize direct borrowing in these and other instances, but contains important protections to ensure that municipalities are not using this tool to avoid using traditional bond financing, which often requires a vote of the people.

This Week in Urban Affairs

March 6th, 2015

The Urban Affairs Committee completed its public hearings on February 28th, but the committee’s work is far from over this session.  Since completing hearings, the committee has held multiple executive sessions over the past week.

Executive session is often when the “meat” of a legislative committee’s work is done.  Senators discuss the bills that were heard by committee and request that committee staff obtain additional information or draft amendments to bills.  Bills can only be advanced during an executive session, so while a bill may have its public hearing early in the legislative session, it cannot be considered by the full legislature until after the committee “execs” on the bill.

While executive sessions are closed to the public, members of the media are permitted to attend and report on actions taken during the session.  All votes taken during executive session are public record, and when a committee votes to advance or indefinitely postpone (kill) a bill, those votes appear clearly on the bill’s committee statement.

Committees often meet to “exec” on a bill one afternoon a week following hearings.  In addition, the Speaker typically designates two days as “check-in” days for committees.  This past Thursday was the first of this session’s “check in” days for 2-day and 1-day committees like Urban Affairs and Business and Labor.  Next Tuesday will be the “check-in” day for 3-day committees such as Health and Human Services and Judiciary.  

This week, two additional bills from the Urban Affairs Committee were signed into law by Governor Ricketts, bringing the total number of enacted Urban Affairs bills to six.  These two bills were:

  • LB 116: Change election procedures and membership for certain sanitary and improvement district boards of trustees

  • LB 266: Change provisions relating to jurisdiction for municipalities to enforce ordinances

This Week in Urban Affairs

February 23rd, 2015

Historically, tax-increment financing, or TIF, has been one of the more controversial topics under the jurisdiction of the Urban Affairs Committee.  Under Nebraska’s community development statutes, municipalities can utilize TIF for the redevelopment of properties that have been deemed “substandard and blighted”.  As applied, TIF allows the municipality to issue bonds to pay the costs of a redevelopment project, with the increased property tax revenues from the redevelopment area dedicated to paying off the bonds.  After fifteen years (or earlier if the bonds are paid off sooner), the increased property tax revenues revert to the city’s general fund and to other political subdivisions which have a property tax levy on property within the redevelopment area.

This past fall, TIF was also the subject of one of the committee’s major interim studies, LR 599.

This week, the Urban Affairs Committee will be hearing three bills dealing with TIF:

-LB 596:  Change the Community Development Law and create the Tax-Increment Financing Division of the Auditor of Public Accounts

-LB 238:  Change provisions relating to tax-increment financing under the Community Development Law

-LB 445:  Authorize audits of redevelopment plans that use tax-increment financing

Last week, four bills from the Urban Affairs Committee were passed on Final Reading and forwarded to Governor Ricketts for his signature.   The four bills, all of which passed unanimously, were:

-LB 149:  Change provisions relating to election procedures for sanitary and improvement districts

-LB 150:  Redefine terms under the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act

-LB 151:  Provide for a person designated to accept city or village notices in cases of mortgaged property or trust deed default

-LB 168:  Authorize expansion of existing business improvement districts

This Week in Urban Affairs

February 14th, 2015

The Urban Affairs Committee has jurisdiction over most state and local building codes, and since 2007 has heard bills dealing with a wide variety of codes, including building codes, energy codes, and plumbing codes.

In 1987, the State of Nebraska adopted its first statewide building code to govern the construction, reconstruction, alteration, and repair of buildings in Nebraska.  The goal of the state building code is to protect the life, health, property, and public welfare of Nebraskans by adopting minimum standards for building design and construction, and to provide for the use of modern and innovative construction techniques.

Like most states, Nebraska has adopted as its state building code a series of model codes published by the International Codes Council, a national association that develops model building codes and standards.  The current state building code consists of three such model codes: 1) the International Building Code, or IBC, which covers all new construction except one- and two-family dwellings; 2) the International Residential Code, or IRC, which covers new construction of one- and two-family dwellings; and 3) the International Existing Building Code, or IEBC, which covers repair, alteration, addition, and change of occupancy for existing buildings.  New editions of these codes are published every three years, and the state has currently adopted the 2009 versions of the codes, with the exception of the residential fire sprinkler mandate in the IRC.

In addition to a bill on the state building code, this week the Urban Affairs Committee will hear two bills dealing with first-class cities, which are cities with a population between 5,001 and 100,000:

  • LB 455: Clarify provisions relating to employment of a full-time fire chief by cities of the first class

  • LB 378: Change requirements for voter approval of borrowing money for public improvements by a first-class city

This Week in Urban Affairs

February 6th, 2015

Of the twenty bills that were referenced to the Urban Affairs Committee this legislative session, six have already been advanced to the floor of the Legislature by the committee.  Among those bills is LB 168, a bill that updates and modernizes Nebraska’s statutes governing business improvement districts (BIDs).

BIDs are special-purpose districts created by a municipality to help fund improvements and developments within an established business area.  While the use of BIDs has increased in recent years, the statutes governing them have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s.  Under LB 168, the cumbersome process of creating a BID would be streamlined to provide affected businesses with clearer information about the proposed district.

LB 168 would also create a process to allow the expansion of an existing BID.  Currently, if additional businesses would like to receive the benefits of the BID, there is no process in statute to expand the current boundaries.  As a result, several communities have been forced to create new BIDs adjacent to the existing ones, which causes unnecessary duplication.  The process to expand an existing BID would mirror the process for creating one under current law.

This week’s Urban Affairs Committee will be returning to the topic of sanitary and improvement districts (SIDs), hearing four bills on the subject:

  • LB 197: Provide additional powers to certain SIDs

  • LB 420: Require acknowledgments from purchasers of real estate in a SID

  • LB 300: Change provisions relating to enforcement of ordinances by SIDs

  • LB 324: Provide authority to SIDs to contract for solid waste collection services

This Week in Urban Affairs

February 2nd, 2015

Discussions in the Urban Affairs Committee this week will return to the statutes governing cities and villages in Nebraska.  Two of three bills being heard by the committee this week deal with municipalities’ extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction, commonly referred to as the ETJ.  A municipality’s ETJ consists of the contiguous unincorporated land within a certain radius of its corporate limits.

Municipalities have the authority to enforce certain ordinances and regulations within their ETJ, including subdivision regulations, zoning regulations, building codes, and nuisance ordinances.  This is generally intended to ensure that infrastructure within the ETJ meets city standards, so that cities do not bear the cost of fixing substandard infrastructure upon annexation.

The size of a municipality’s ETJ varies according to the classification of the city or village.  State law currently classifies Nebraska municipalities into five categories based on population: 1) cities of the metropolitan class (300,000 or more); 2) cities of the primary class (100,001 to 299,999); 3) cities of the first class (5,001 to 100,000); 4) cities of the second class (801 to 5,000); and villages (100 to 800).  Cities of the metropolitan (i.e. Omaha) and primary (i.e. Lincoln) class have a three-mile ETJ, cities of the first class (i.e. Bellevue) have a two-mile ETJ; and cities of the second class (i.e. Springfield) and villages (i.e. Murray) have a one-mile ETJ.

This week, the Urban Affairs Committee will hear three bills, all of which deal with municipalities:

  • LB 295: Require municipalities to have county approval before enforcing ordinances in the extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction.
  • LB 304: Adopt the Municipal Custodianship for Dissolved Homeowners Associations Act.
  • LB 266: Change provisions relating to jurisdiction for municipalities to enforce nuisance ordinances.