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.

August 31st, 2015

On September 25th, the Urban Affairs Committee will hold two hearings on economic development-related interim studies.  The first, LR 152, will examine the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act, commonly referred to as LB 840.  Passed in 1991, LB 840 allows municipalities to collect and appropriate local tax dollars for economic development purposes, if approved by local voters.  As of last year, 65 municipalities have voted to create an LB 840 program, including the City of Bellevue.  A map of municipalities in Nebraska that have created an LB 840 program is shown below.

08242015_lb840.png

 
The second study, LR 155, will take a comprehensive look at current and potential economic development tools available to Nebraska municipalities.  In addition to LB 840 plans, LR 155 will look at tax-increment financing (TIF) and a variety of other programs in state law.  The study will also review economic development tools currently available to municipalities in other states, and whether provisions in the Nebraska State Constitution prohibit similar programs from being created in Nebraska.

Interim Study Hearings Scheduled

August 3rd, 2015

There were 129 interim study resolutions introduced during the First Session of the 104th Legislature, of which nine were referred to the Urban Affairs Committee.  Over the past decade, the previous record for interim studies referred to the committee was eight, so it’s going to be a busy interim in Urban Affairs this year!

As Chair of the Urban Affairs Committee, part of my duties are to prioritize interim studies that are referred to the committee and schedule interim hearings.  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 155 (Urban Affairs Committee)

Interim study to examine current and potential economic development tools available to municipalities in Nebraska

LR 174 (Crawford)

Interim study to examine issues surrounding the Nebraska Energy Code

LR 152 (Crawford)

Interim study to examine the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act

LR 278 (Pansing-Brooks)

Interim study to examine existing resources and the need for additional tools for municipalities to further encourage revitalization of neighborhoods

LR 273 (Davis)

Interim study to examine the current practices of municipalities using tax-increment financing under the Community Development Law

LR 159 (Crawford)

Interim study to examine issues surrounding handicapped parking

LR 280 (Crawford)

Interim study to examine municipal bankruptcy

LR 240 (Urban Affairs Committee)

Interim study to examine state law governing cities of the first class in Chapter 16 of the Nebraska statutes

LR 156 (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 handicapped parking statutes, energy codes, and the Local Option Municipal Economic Development Act (commonly referred to as LB 840).

Earlier this month, the Urban Affairs Committee officially scheduled its initial interim study hearings to be held this fall.  On September 25th, the committee will hold a hearing on two economic development-related interim studies – LR 155 & LR 152.  On October 23rd, the committee will hold hearings on LR 278, dealing with neighborhood revitalization, and LR 174, which examines the Nebraska Energy Code.  Both sets of Friday hearings will be held in the State Capitol in Room 1510, and will begin at 1:30 p.m.

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