Omaha Legislative Agenda: What passed, failed?


April 1st, 2016

(Photo Courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

(Photo Courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Less than eight days remain on the calendar in the 104th session of the Nebraska Legislature. In a follow up to our January preview of Omaha City lobbyist Jack Cheloha, KVNO’s Brandon McDermott takes a look at Omaha’s legislative agenda this session and if Omaha hit or missed.

On the slate for the city of Omaha during the 2016 session of the Unicameral were three main proposed bills: a turn back tax, to get more funds to help pay off CenturyLink Center (as well as Ralston Arena and Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln) and to provide funds to reinvest in it.

Another bill focused on infrastructure, the Legislature created an infrastructure bank to help address these infrastructure problems. The final resolution included in the city’s legislative package was a proposal to expedite the tax foreclosure process on abandoned property, from three years to two years.

The agenda was set by the mayor and approved by the city council last November.

In the rotunda just outside the Legislative Chamber at the Capitol building in Lincoln, Jack Cheloha waits outside the chamber like the rest of the lobbyists. I had a chance to catch up with him between phone calls. Cheloha is the official lobbyist for the city of Omaha. He says because it was a short session, it hamstrung many bills.

“I think the speaker Hadley realizes that a lot of these issues are going to be tough there’s going to be significant floor debate on them.”

Cheloha is right. Governor Pete Ricketts has only signed 57 of the 400 bills introduced this year. Cheloha says when it comes to the abandoned property proposal—dropping the foreclosure period from three years down to two; he knew he faced a tough hill to climb with only 60 days to get it done in.

“You work – right from the beginning, before giving the bill introduced to the public hearing. You try to work with the opposition to get everybody to at least agree to the same side and you can hope for a unanimous vote out of committee.”

State Senator Burke Harr represents Legislative District 8 in Omaha. He introduced the property foreclosure bill to the legislature this year.

“The advantage of foreclosing on property that have not paid taxes on them – first of all two years is allowed by the state constitution. Second of all – it allows that property to get back on the tax rolls sooner, and it allows it to be redeveloped for a higher and better use.”

Harr’s bill, LB 925, died in committee before reaching the floor for a full debate. Senator Harr says it didn’t make it for several reasons but mainly:

“The abandoned property bill had different criteria for foreclosure if a property had been abandoned -versus not abandoned. It was difficult to determine how and when a property is abandoned.”

He says it is tough to prove that a property is abandoned before a court of law.

“I think it’ll be brought back next year with some tweaks that will address some of the issues. Some of the senators on the revenue committee already have.”

With two years remaining in his term, Senator Harr is confident that next year, his bill will have a much better chance at passing.

“What we’re looking to do, is instead to say, if a property is foreclosed upon for nonpayment of taxes that you can take it in two years instead of three. It is to eliminate the difference between an abandoned and non-abandoned property.”

He says this legislative session was back loaded. This week alone, the Unicameral has tackled expanding Medicaid, dealing with property taxes and the learning community.

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