LINCOLN — Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert raised concerns Tuesday about a legislative proposal aimed at helping the city redevelop its riverfront area.

But State Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, who introduced Legislative Bill 806, said he thinks he has worked out changes to the proposal that will resolve those concerns.

The bill would allow cities to create new entities called riverfront development authorities to coordinate and facilitate development efforts within designated riverfront areas.

At a hearing before the Urban Affairs Committee, Mello said the proposed authorities could work with private donors, property developers and government entities to promote riverfront development.

He said the new entities would have many of the same abilities as business development districts.

They could issue bonds and fund infrastructure projects with assessments on private property or occupation taxes within the riverfront district.

LB 806 isn't designed just for Omaha and could be used by cities on any of the state's rivers, Mello said.

But he said his efforts were spurred on by last year's announcement that ConAgra was moving its corporate headquarters from the company's iconic riverfront campus.

Cassie Paben, Stothert's deputy chief of staff for economic development, took an officially neutral position on the bill. She said city officials have not had time to study Mello's proposed amendments to the bill.

However, speaking on the mayor's behalf, she said LB 806 as introduced would result in tax increases.

She also said the bill does not spell out how the proposed riverfront authorities would work with existing development districts and other riverfront development efforts.

Mello said the authorities would not have any new taxing powers. The city can already make use of these kinds of taxes, he said, and his bill would spell out that the riverfront district would be the beneficiary.

The bill drew support from Omaha City Councilman Garry Gernandt and Omaha by Design.

It also garnered support from Norfolk officials, who said the proposed authorities could help with renovation efforts along the North Fork of the Elkhorn River, which runs through the city.

In the metro area, representatives from Omaha and Council Bluffs have been meeting for more than two years to work on riverfront issues.

The group was pulled together by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which took a neutral position on LB 806.

The meetings led to a report by the Urban Land Institute that laid out a vision for the area, including more festivals and concerts, more trails and better access to the river, more open space and even a dog park.

Education board questions need for civics exam bill

LINCOLN — The Nebraska State Board of Education says a bill requiring high school seniors to pass a citizenship test is the wrong way to create an informed public.

Assistant Commissioner Brian Halstead told a legislative committee Tuesday that the state should focus instead on enhancing its current programs.

The measure by Omaha Sen. Bob Krist would require students to answer 70 percent of questions on the federal immigration test correctly before graduation to ensure they have a basic knowledge of civics.

Krist said the bill could be implemented using free resources, but Halstead said the test wasn't designed for students. Halstead said taking the test only requires students to memorize facts, not use critical-thinking skills.

The board officially took a neutral stance on the measure. —AP

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