NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE
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Urban Affairs Committee

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.

On August 18th, the Urban Affairs Committee held its first interim study hearing of the year, a “road” hearing in Aurora, Nebraska. The hearing was the first of two planned hearings on LR 490, an interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes in Nebraska. 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.

Hearings like the one in Aurora provide an opportunity for committee members to receive testimony from Nebraskans who might not otherwise have the ability to travel to Lincoln for legislative hearings. At the hearing, committee members heard from various city and county officials from multiple communities in Central Nebraska. The enforcement of building codes largely falls to political subdivisions in Nebraska, as there is no state agency that handles code enforcement, except in a few cases.


Senator Crawford giving opening remarks to Urban Affairs Committee members at the LR 490 public hearing

Prior to the interim study hearing, my office also hosted a stakeholder meeting in Aurora on LR 439, my interim study to examine the use of tax-increment financing (TIF) for residential development. In addition to Urban Affairs Committee members, the stakeholder meeting brought together city, county, and school district officials from throughout the state, as well as local developers who have worked on residential projects in the area. Topics discussed at the hearing included the current housing crisis in rural Nebraska, the lack of tools available to municipalities for residential development, existing notice requirements for TIF projects to counties, school districts, and other political subdivisions, and the importance of early and ongoing communication between municipalities, counties, and school districts regarding proposed TIF projects.

The Urban Affairs Committee has scheduled its first interim study hearing for the year, and will be taking a “road trip” to Aurora on August 18th. Legislative committees often travel outside of the Capitol during the interim, and this will be the second consecutive year that the Urban Affairs Committee is going on the road.

At the hearing in Aurora, the committee will hold the first of two planned hearings on LR 490, an interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes in Nebraska. Urban Affairs 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.

Enforcement of building codes largely falls to political subdivisions (municipalities and counties), as there is no state agency that handles code enforcement, except in a few cases. LR 490 will take a comprehensive look at code enforcement in Nebraska, and is designed to: 1) examine the role of the state in enforcing the state building code and state energy code; 2) review the number of political subdivisions that have adopted local building or energy codes or are enforcing state building or energy codes; and 3) consider the remedies available to property owners when their home or business is not built to meet the applicable building or energy code.

This month, my office began holding initial stakeholder meetings for a number of interim studies being heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this interim. Among the interim studies being undertaken this summer is LR 489, an interim study that I introduced to examine issues relating to housing authorities.

Housing authorities are local governmental entities established with a mission to provide affordable housing to area residents. There are just over 100 housing authorities in Nebraska, ranging from the larger agencies in Omaha and Lincoln which oversee a wide variety of housing programs and projects, to smaller agencies in rural Nebraska that primarily provide senior housing. A map of housing authorities in Nebraska is shown below.

Nebraska’s main housing authority statutes, the Nebraska Housing Agency Act, were adopted in 1999, but have not been updated since that time. The primary goal of LR 489 is to update and modernize the Nebraska Housing Agency Act, and committee staff and I will be meeting with representatives of various housing authorities over the summer and fall to identify any necessary updates. This month we met with leaders from our own Bellevue Housing Authority to hear about their work in the community and any concerns that they have for us to consider as we move forward.

urban affairs map

There were 111 interim study resolutions introduced during the First Session of the 104th Legislature, of which nine were referred to the Urban Affairs Committee.  This number ties last session’s record for interim studies referred to the committee, so it’s going to be another busy interim in Urban Affairs this year!  A full listing of the interim studies referred to the Urban Affairs Committee, listed in order of committee priority, is below:

Resolution No. Subject
LR 490 (Crawford) Interim study to examine the enforcement of state and local building codes
LR 439 (Crawford) Interim study to examine the use of tax-increment financing by municipalities for residential development
LR 526 (Hansen) Interim study to examine municipal classifications
LR 489 (Crawford) Interim study to examine issues relating to housing authorities
LR 464 (Groene) Interim study to examine the effects of the use of tax-increment financing by municipalities
LR 605 (Mello) Interim study to examine issues relating to urban redevelopment
LR 565 (Pansing Brooks) Interim study to examine land acquisition within municipalities for educational purposes
LR 495 (Urban Affairs Committee) Interim study to examine state law governing cities of the second class and villages in Chapter 17 of the Nebraska statutes
LR 496 (Urban Affairs Committee) Interim study to examine issues under the jurisdiction of the Urban Affairs Committee

 

Unlike bills heard during session, not all interim study resolutions will have a public hearing.  Often the “heavy lifting” of interim studies is done by committee staff during the summer months, and committee legal counsel Trevor Fitzgerald is already hard at work researching a variety of topics, including current municipal classification thresholds, local building code adoptions, and the Nebraska Housing Agency Act.

 

 

With the Governor signing LB 1012 into law this week, seventeen bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee have been enacted during the 2016 legislative session.  Combined with the thirteen Urban Affairs bills that passed last session, it’s been a productive biennium for the committee!

Committee Chairs play a key role in the legislative process, working with senators to ensure that bills advanced by the committee move forward during floor debate.  As Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee for the last two years, I am pleased with the success that the committee has had this biennium.  The committee advanced 31 of 39 bills that were heard by it during the two-year cycle, and of those bills that were advanced, just one failed to become law – a more than 96% success rate.

Major Urban Affairs legislation that has been enacted over the past two years includes bills to update the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (LB 1059), authorize the expansion of existing business improvement districts (LB 168), update the state building code (LB 540) and local building code adoption process (LB 704), and reform the process by which a sanitary and improvement district (SID) is annexed by a municipality (LB 131).

In addition, the committee has begun the process of updating and modernizing statutes governing municipalities.  Much of the current language in the municipal statutes have not been amended since Nebraska statutes were recodified in 1943, and some may even date back to the late 1800s.  This session, the committee updated the statutes governing cities of the first class (LB 705), and legislation to update other classes of municipality will be introduced in the coming years.

Nineteen bills were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee this session, and another seven bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee in 2015 were carried over to this session.  Of those twenty-six total bills, sixteen have been signed into law.  Another bill, LB 1012, was passed 45-0 by the Legislature this week and is awaiting the Governor’s signature.

This session, including committee-introduced legislation, I introduced six bills in the Urban Affairs Committee.  All six have been signed into law.

Carryover:

 

Non-carryover:

This Week in Urban Affairs

April 4th, 2016

This session, a total of four bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee received a priority designation. The last of those four bills, LB 1012, was advanced to Select File this week.  LB 1012 would adopt the Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Act.

PACE is a financing mechanism that allows local governments to help finance the up-front costs of energy efficiency and renewable energy improvements on commercial and residential properties. Examples of improvements that could be eligible for PACE financing include energy efficient windows and doors, upgraded HVAC systems, weather stripping, and energy efficient light fixtures.
Under LB 1012, municipalities would be authorized to create clean energy assessment districts, which are similar in nature to assessment districts for streets, sewers, and other forms of municipal infrastructure.  Property owners could opt in to participate in the PACE program, and the loan, including interest and administrative fees, would be repaid through a special assessment on the property owner’s property tax bill over a set period of time.

While energy efficiency improvements can significantly decrease a property’s energy use, and thus help property owners save money on their utility bills, they often require high up-front costs to install.  PACE helps to eliminate this barrier by allowing property owners to pay for energy efficiency improvements over time through their property tax bill.  Because the PACE assessment transfers with the property when it is sold, the costs associated with the energy efficiency improvement will be repaid over time by the person benefiting from the improvement.

Legislation authorizing municipalities to establish PACE programs has been passed in 32 states and the District of Columbia, and there are currently 2,059 municipalities with active PACE programs.

This Week in Urban Affairs

March 29th, 2016

Both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills were passed on Final Reading this week, and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.

The first committee priority bill, LB 1059, is a package bill that amends the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as LB 840.  The Act allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters.

The LB 1059 package includes two changes that were recommended during the Urban Affairs Committee’s LR 155 interim study, which took a comprehensive look at the economic development tools that are currently available to municipalities in Nebraska.  These changes were originally introduced in two other bills heard by the Urban Affairs Committee, LB 808 and LB 860.

The second committee priority bill, LB 704, is a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of various statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes.  The bill also contains the provisions ofLB 705, a comprehensive bill that updates and modernizes statutes governing cities of the first class.

With the passage of the Urban Affairs Committee priority bills this week, 7 bills heard by the committee (including three carry-over bills) have been signed into law, 6 bills have passed the Legislature and are awaiting the Governor’s signature, and another 3 bills are on Final Reading.

This Week in Urban Affairs

March 21st, 2016

This week, three bills that were heard by the Urban Affairs Committee were advanced from General File as part of the third Consent Calendar agenda:

●      LB 875:  Change conditions for approval of a planned unit development for certain second-class cities and villages

●     LB 948:  Change an application period limitation for the designation of enterprise zones as prescribed

●      LB 865:  Change provisions relating to handicapped parking

LB 948 deals with enterprise zones, a topic that was discussed last year in the Urban Affairs Committee’s interim study report on LR 155, the committee’s interim study to examine current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska.

Designed to encourage investment and economic growth in distressed communities, some type of zone-based economic development initiative – most commonly called enterprise zones – is present in the vast majority of states.  Nebraska’s enterprise zone statutes were passed in 1992 and 1993, but the original enterprise zones designated under the Enterprise Zone Act were allowed to expire after a decade.

The Enterprise Zone Act was reactivated with the passage of LB 800 in 2014 to allow the creation of up to five enterprise zones by the Department of Economic Development.  Under the Act, any city, village, tribal government area, or county may apply for designation of an area within its boundaries to be designated as an enterprise zone.  Once an area has been designated as an enterprise zone, the designation remains in effect for ten years.  Businesses located within the boundaries of a designated enterprise zone receive preferences under a variety of state business incentives and grant programs, including the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, the Business Innovation Act, the Job Training Cash Fund, and the Site and Building Development Fund.

While the Department of Economic Development has designated enterprise zones within the City of Omaha, the City of South Sioux City, and Otoe County, two of the five enterprise zones authorized under LB 800 have yet to be designated.  LB 948 would authorize the Department of Economic Development to establish an additional application period for the designation of enterprise zones, allowing other municipalities and counties (including the Bellevue area) to seek enterprise zone designation in distressed portions of their communities.

This Week in Urban Affairs

March 15th, 2016

This week, both of the Urban Affairs Committee’s priority bills were advanced from Select File, which is the second round of floor debate.  Prior to advancing LB 704, a technical bill designed as a “clean-up” of statutes that deal with the adoption of local building codes, the bill was amended to incorporate the provisions of another Urban Affairs clean-up bill, LB 705.

Introduced by the Urban Affairs Committee, LB 705 is a comprehensive bill that updates and modernizes statutes governing cities of the first class.  Cities of the first class have a population between 5,001 and 100,000, and include the cities of Bellevue, La Vista, and Papillion.

Much of the current language in the statutes governing cities of the first class has not been amended since Nebraska statutes were recodified in 1943, and some may even date back to the late 1800s. Among the antiquated and obsolete language eliminated under LB 705 are references to hitching posts, wagons, steam-powered rail cars, tippling shops, workhouses, poorhouses, freeholders, and imprisonment at hard labor.

While bills like LB 705 may not make the news, they play an important role in keeping our state laws up-to-date.  Over the next few years, the Urban Affairs Committee plans to review the statutes that deal with other classes of municipalities, continuing to modernize the state laws that govern how our local governments operate.

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