States Must Decide How to Spend Coronavirus Relief Funds As Localities Wait for Their Share
June 9, 2020 | Billy Culleton
MultiState's Local Policy Digest explores the top legislative developments from municipalities across the U.S.
Last week, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to ban the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, on public lands after citing security concerns. Specifically, the ordinance (17-3674) prohibits the use of “any form of UAS on County property unless expressly authorized by the Agency that is the custodian of said property.“
The ordinance text argues that drones have the capability to “smuggle drugs, weapons, and other contraband into jails and prisons,” and drones’ ability to covertly take pictures and videos could “create a privacy, safety, or security threat at other county property such as county courthouses and health system facilities.”
With the ordinance now in effect, those who violate its terms can expect a fine of $2,500 and the possibility of having their drone confiscated.
Last week, the Seattle City Council passed new restrictions (CB 119081) on local short-term rental property owners through a combination of new taxes and license requirements. Introduced by Seattle’s newly-appointed mayor, Tim Burgess, the ordinance restricts the number of properties available for rent to two-family dwelling units, imposes a $10 per-night tax on rental owners, and requires owners to purchase a short-term rental operator’s license for $75. Property owners are also expected to maintain the business license that the city already requires. Short-term rental companies are also required to obtain a special short-term rental platform license in order to do business within the city limits.
Mayor Burgess stressed the importance of maintaining available long-term housing options as Seattle’s ongoing housing crisis worsens. Burgess worried that the expansion of short-term rentals could exacerbate the city’s struggle to combat the rising costs in the local housing market.
Airbnb has recently come out in support of the measure. Laura Spanjian, Airbnb’s Northwest Public Policy Director said in a statement:
“Airbnb welcomes the new proposal from the City of Seattle regarding the proposed regulation of short-term rentals. We continue to work closely with the City on developing regulations that will protect Seattle’s long-term housing stock while allowing thousands of responsible Airbnb hosts to share their homes to earn meaningful supplemental income to help make ends meet.”
Ultimately, the city council plans to use funds from the new tax to “invest in affordable housing and support community-initiated equitable development projects.” The city council estimates that the new tax could raise as much as $6 million over the next year. Once signed, the ordinance will go into effect 30 days from the signing date, with the tax beginning on October 1, 2018.
On Tuesday, the Erie Board of Trustees passed an ordinance requiring local oil and gas companies to map the pipelines they have installed across the town. The ordinance (B 17-317) adopts the October 2017 Title 10 Unified Development Code (UDC), which establishes “the zoning regulations, development code, and design guidelines of the Town of Erie.”
The new UDC code includes changes to the regulations for oil and gas operations. Specifically, the new UDC code mandates that local gas operations submit a map to the town administrator “showing the the location, including GPS location, of the existing flowlines and all other subsurface facilities.” Each map shall also “denote if the subsurface facility is in use, abandoned, or shut-in; its age; its size and the maximum pressure at which it is operated; its depth from the surface; and the name of the Operator or Owner." The ordinance is set to go into effect on October 31.
Town Trustee Jennifer Carroll, who voted in favor of the ordinance, argued that the ordinance is a way for citizens to know if they could potentially be at risk of exposure or possible gas explosions. "It is very concerning and I don't think the state fully knows where everything is," said Carroll.
On the opposing side of the issue, a spokesperson for Erie's largest oil and gas provider maintains that more local regulations are not the answer. “If all local jurisdictions write their own ordinances, it creates a patchwork for regulatory oversight. We believe legislation at the state level offers a more consistent process,” said Jason Oates, spokesperson for Crestone Peak Resources. These new regulations come just months after the state lawmakers ended the 2017 session in May by rejecting a bill that would have required similar mapping practices statewide.
Erie has been at the head of local efforts aimed at regulating the oil and gas industry in Colorado. Most recently, we reported that the Board of Trustees passed a nuisance ordinance that allowed citizens to file official complaints against hydraulic fracturing companies for emitting harmful odors. However, the passage of this most recent ordinance is being viewed by many as precedent-setting, in that it shows that the town is prepared to surpass even the state legislature in order to protect its citizens.
After hearing a presentation during last week's general workshop meeting, the city council sanctioned the drafting of an ordinance that would repeal the city's hands-free ordinance in favor of complying with the new state law. Passed just last year, College Station's hands-free ordinance (Sec. 38-19) banned the use of cell phones for any purpose while driving, except when used in hands-free mode or when stopped. In contrast, the new state (TX HB 62) law only bans the act of texting while driving, leaving open the option to use GPS and other apps while in motion, creating a mismatch between state and local law.
The Texas Legislature finished its special session last month without passing a state preemption bill (TX HB 15 A), which would have banned local governments from “regulating or prohibiting the use of a wireless communication device while operating a motor vehicle.” When we first covered this issue in June, we found that at least 44 Texas cities have ordinances that exceed the new state law's standards.
"I stand on the side of uniformity of law and enforceability of law,” said Councilman James Benham, adding that it was important for “drivers in the twin city area to have one set of regulations they operate under when they drive between Bryan and College Station.”
Despite the calls for uniformity, data cited in the workshop presentation on the ordinance's effectiveness seemed to show a positive impact on driver safety. Only 6.8 percent of motorists have continued using their phones while behind the wheel since the hands-free ordinance was adopted in November. “That's an almost 42 percent decrease in wireless communication device use,” said Katie Womack, a Senior Research Scientist with Texas A&M Transportation Institute.
College Station Mayor Karl Mooney believes strongly that the issue will be revisited during the next legislative session. "I predict that when we get to the 86th Legislature, they're going to come back, revisit this, and say, 'My goodness, we should have made this much firmer, we should have enabled our police officers to be able to enforce this law, because what we did was, we came short of the mark.'"
Lieutenant Steven Brock of the College Station Police Department said officers will be enforcing only the provisions contained in the state law, but also said he hoped that drivers will voluntarily abide by the ordinance. "Only use your phone in hands-free mode,” he said.
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June 9, 2020 | Billy Culleton
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