Bill description: HB 217 would increase the opportunity for voter input on the use of urban renewal dollars.

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Does it in any way restrict public access to information related to government activity or otherwise compromise government transparency or accountability? Conversely, does it increase public access to information related to government activity or increase government transparency or accountability?

House Bill 217 greatly increases government accountability by giving voters more input on the use of urban renewal dollars to fund public projects. This bill would change current law, which only requires a vote if 51 percent or more of the total value of the project will be funded through urban renewal dollars. This bill would require a public vote on any contribution of urban renewal funds to a public project.

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While the bill increases opportunities for holding a vote, it lowers what is required for voter approval. HB 217 takes the approval rate for passage down from 60 percent to 55 percent.

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This bill also lays out many various exceptions to the public vote requirement, specifically for “infrastructure or belowground improvements.” These exceptions include sewer lines, electrical lines, natural gas lines, sidewalks, parking and more. These exceptions reduce the accountability of cities. If the urban renewal money is specified to go toward one or more of these exceptions, like a parking garage, then the public would not receive the opportunity to vote.

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House Bill 217 also makes changes to the types of public projects that would fall under this section of code. For example, this bill adds a sports stadium as a structure that would require a vote. This bill also adds that any remodel of an existing building would fall under this code. These changes increase accountability for cities that attempt to use urban renewal funds to pay for remodels of existing structures or contribute public money toward a sports stadium.

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Plus, HB 217 clarifies the definition of municipal buildings. It removes the term “only” before the list of building types and inserts the phrase “include, but are not limited to.” This clarifies that the building types listed in the bill are examples of buildings that would require a public vote, and not a full and complete list.

HB 217 also includes properties that are owned by the government but leased out to other entities. A public vote would apply to these types of properties, which are not included under the definition in current law.

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