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Bill would require voter approval for public building commission bond issues

January 24, 2019

A bill proposed in the Nebraska Legislature would require public building commissions in the state to submit bond issues to the people for a vote.

State Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said his LB 20 is not directed at a controversial Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission proposal to borrow $120 million to build a justice center. Because of the timing, it’s unclear if the proposal would be affected if the bill were to become law. Briese said he thought it likely would not affect the Douglas County proposal.

“I’m not aiming at it,” Briese said Wednesday. “But it happens to be in the crosshairs at the moment.”

Currently, public building commissions can issue bonds with a vote of their members. Briese’s bill would require approval by voters. It’s scheduled for a hearing Thursday afternoon before the legislature’s Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Briese, who has introduced a number of property tax-related bills, said LB 20 is “essentially a property tax relief bill.”

“This bill is an effort to create additional transparency and accountability in the expenditure of property tax dollars,” he said. “From my standpoint, the problem lies with what I would see as a loophole in the law, allowing tens of millions of dollars to be spend without voter approval.”

But Douglas County Board Member Clare Duda said the Legislature gave public building commissions that authority specifically so they could build projects such as the county’s proposed courthouse annex and juvenile detention center.

He said the main reason for the proposed project is the Douglas County Juvenile Court, a state function that the county provides space for, has outgrown its space in the Douglas County Courthouse, exacerbated by the Legislature’s assigning additional judges to the court.

The Lincoln/Lancaster Public Building Commission “has used (the bond issue law) umpteen times,” Duda said. “The first time we try to use it, they say, what are you doing?”

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