With deadlines looming, the Omaha City Council took action Tuesday on two divisive issues: guns and climate change. The City Council voted to repeal many of the city’s gun regulations, and approved a federal grant for the city’s Climate Action Plan. 

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Nebraska’s new concealed carry law, LB77, is set to go into effect this weekend. The law will override any local regulations to allow Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons without a permit or training. On Tuesday, the City Council repealed 22 ordinances that would be made null and void by LB77.

City Attorney Matt Kuhse said the repeal was necessary to avoid confusion. 

“It’s imperative on the city to not leave those laws on the books,” Kuhse said. “It is disingenuous to allow our citizens to believe these laws are active.”

The repealed ordinances include permit and firearm training requirements, as well as city code detailing the Omaha Police Department’s authority to enforce concealed carry regulations. The City Council also voted to amend eight other ordinances, including city code dealing with the Mayor’s authority to regulate firearms during emergencies.

Though the motion was approved unanimously, there was little support from city officials. Kuhse said Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, who was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, has concerns that LB77 will put police officers in more dangerous situations and cause public alarm. He said police officers will have to be retrained and reeducated on the changes. 

Council President Pete Festersen said that the City Council must do what the state law requires, but it will have negative impacts on public safety.

“I don’t think [LB77] does recognize that cities face a different situation, and it does not allow for local control on these matters,” Festersen said.

Festersen said that he requested the law department to study what regulations the city could still make under LB77. He said they will work on regulating “ghost guns” — untraceable firearms that are privately assembled —  and implements like bump stocks, which the city of Lincoln has already banned.

Kuhse said LB77 does allow property owners—including the city—to prohibit the possession of concealed firearms on their premises. He said Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert will issue an executive order to prohibit concealed firearms on city-owned properties.

Climate Grant

The City Council voted unanimously to accept a $1 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the creation of Omaha’s Climate Action Plan. 

The federal grant will pay for the city’s $376,000 contract with paleBLUEdot, the Minnesota-based consulting firm the city hired in March to draft the plan, along with other contracts and expenses.

Councilmembers Brinker Harding, Aimee Melton and Don Rowe — who all previously voted against the agreement with paleBLUEdot — expressed concern with the details of the grant before ultimately voting yes. Harding said he was uncomfortable voting for it Tuesday, but didn’t move for a layover because the deadline to accept is Sept. 7 and the City Council won’t meet next week.

Marco Floreani, Mayor Stothert’s Deputy Chief of Staff in charge of economic development, told the City Council in March that funding would come from a grant from the Department of Energy, but the city learned later that month of the opportunity from the EPA.

Harding said he was never told of the switch until last week.

“We had four months to have this discussion, but here we are having it with the proverbial gun held to our head,” Harding said.

Councilmember Aimee Melton said she didn’t want the city locked in to implement whatever the plan recommends. She said some climate proposals could make it more costly to build affordable housing.

“I don’t like to vote for what sounds like a plan that we have no idea what’s in the plan,” Melton said. “I believe taking this money sounds like we’re committing to whatever the recommendations are from the plan that we may or may not disagree with.”

Council President Festersen said he was encouraged that the grant implements deadlines to get the plan going. The grant requires the city to create a Priority Climate Action Plan by March 1 2024 to identify and analyze emissions data and sources. The city is required to create a Comprehensive Climate Action Plan by August 2025 with actions and measurable goals to reduce emissions, and to provide a status report when the grant funding ends in 2027.

The city’s own timeline for its climate action plan includes a November 2024 deadline.

“Most major cities have already implemented a comprehensive plan,” Festersen said. “So I wish we were further along.”

The grant includes nearly $141,000 for a new position within the city planning department to help coordinate with the different agencies involved. City Planning Director Dave Fanslau said they would move an existing staff member to that position. He said the funding would cover their salary for two years, after which they would need a new funding source.

Floreani said the Climate Action Plan will cover the greater Omaha area, so the grant money will also go toward a $250,000 agreement with the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), which the City Council will vote on next month.

The Douglas County Board of Commissioners also met Tuesday to approve an agreement with Carlson West Povondra Architects to provide design services and administer contracts for the proposed expansion to the Douglas County Correctional Center for mental health treatment.

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