Laws governing the initiative process in Nebraska (archive)

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Laws governing the initiative process in Nebraska have changed dramatically since the process was first enabled in 1912.

Statewide, citizens in Nebraska can use the process of direct democracy to:

Citizens in Nebraska can also impanel grand juries at the county level through collecting signatures on petitions.

Changes in 2008

See also: History of Nebraska's initiative laws

In 2008, DiAnna Schimek, not for the first time, shepherded a bill through the unicameral legislature that imposes significant new restrictions on the initiative process. Schimek's bill was sponsored in her final term of office--she is leaving her long-held seat due to term limits imposed through the citizen initiative process. See history of Nebraska's initiative laws to understand how the state's law has changed over time.

With the passage of the 2008 law, Nebraska is likely to join the ranks of Idaho, Illinois, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming--states that technically have I&R, but where the process has become so cumbersome and difficult through acts of the state legislature that it is nearly impossible, in practice, to qualify a measure for the ballot.

In 2009, Citizens in Charge filed a lawsuit, Citizens in Charge v. Gale, challenging the constitutionality of several provisions of LB 39.[1]

Steps to begin an initiative

Once a sponsor has decided to begin an initiative petition effort, the first step is to deliver to the Nebraska Secretary of State a copy of the language that the sponsors wish to see adopted through the initiative process as either a new state statute or a new constitutional amendment. The sponsor also must present a proposed Object Statement to the Secretary of State.

  • At the time that the wording is filed, the sponsor must also provide an official, notarized statement stating who is sponsoring the proposed statute or constitutional amendment.
  • From there, the Nebraska Secretary of State sends the language to the Revisor of Statutes who reviews the submitted language. The Revisor, by statute, has ten days to review the language and suggest changes if, in the opinion of the Revisor, changes are needed in order to make the language fit into the existing constitution or body of state statutes as clearly and uniformly as possible without altering the intention of the proposed ballot measure.
  • When the suggested changes, if any, are returned to the Secretary of State, the sponsors are informed and may accept or reject any suggestions made by the Revisor. The suggested changes are confidential for five days after returned from the Revisor.
  • The sponsor then provides the final language to the Secretary of State and he or she places the language and object clause onto a petition form. The Secretary of State provides 5 camera-ready copies of the form to the sponsor within 5 days. Sponsors are required to use copies of the exact petition form provided by the Secretary of State, in every respect including the physical dimensions of the petition. In Nebraska, the physical dimensions of the petition form as mandated by the state is 11x17 inches, which means that the petitions do not fit on either standard or legal-size clipboards.
  • Once the final form is given to the sponsors the language of the measure may not subsequently be changed or amended. However, if a change in the language becomes necessary, sponsors may stop collecting signatures on the petition and begin the process again with revised language.

Procedures for a veto referendum

The procedures for the filing of a referendum petition are very similar to an initiative. Instead of submitting the proposed initiative language, the sponsors submit a copy of the recently passed law along with a statement of the object of the petition. The proposed referendum follows the same path through the Revisor and Secretary of State as an initiative.

Once the sponsors have received the camera-ready copies of the form, they may print or copy the form and begin collecting signatures from registered voters in the state.

  • Signature deadline for referendum: The signatures for a referendum challenging a new law can be collected while the legislature is still in session, as long as the governor has signed the bill in question and the others steps outlined above have been implemented. The signatures must be filed within ninety days after the adjournment of the state legislative session during which the law was passed.
  • Limits on referendum subjects: Citizens are not allowed to circulate petitions to overturn any laws the legislature passes that appropriate money.

Key features of process

Date initiative language can be submitted

There are no restrictions on when a sponsor can submit language to the state.

Signature requirements

See also: Nebraska signature requirements for more information.

In Nebraska, the number of required signatures is tied to the number of registered voters in the state as of the statutory deadline for filing signatures. Nebraska is the only state where the number of required signatures is tied directly to the number of registered voters. Most states tie their calculation to how many people actually voted for governor (or some other statewide office) in the most recent election. Because of this unique policy, Nebraska is also the only state where petition sponsors cannot know the exact number of signatures required until the day these signatures are filed.

For proposed statutes, the number required is 7% of registered voters. For amendments, the number required is 10% of registered voters. The Nebraska Constitution provides for two distinct types of referendum. In the first type, the law is referred to ballot but remains in effect until the vote--this requires signatures from 5% of registered voters. In the second, the law is referred to the ballot and suspended until voters have weighed in--this requires signatures from 10% of registered voters. Most states only feature the latter type of veto referendum.

DocumentIcon.jpg See law: Nebraska Constitution, Article III, Sections 2 & 3

Distribution requirement

Signatures equal to 5% of the registered voters in a county must be collected in a minimum of 40% (or 38) of Nebraska's 93 counties. (See Distribution requirements).

Time allowed for circulation period

The time allowed for collecting signatures can be as long as twenty months, but there are limits. The limit is that any signatures that have been collected become invalid at the first general election in the state that occurs at least four months after the petition wording has been filed with the Secretary of State.

For example, if an initiative sponsor files wording in April of an even-numbered year and collects 15,000 signatures between April and the date of the November election, all those signatures become invalid on the day of the election and will not count toward qualifying the measure for the general election in two years. This requirement is detailed in Neb. Rev. Stat. 32-1407.

Date when signatures are due for certification

Initiative petition signatures must be submitted to the Secretary of State no later than four months prior to the general election.

Signature verification process

Petitions are turned into the Secretary of State, who then gives the petitions to the respective counties for validation. Each signature is compared with the voter registration records.

Laws governing petition circulators

Residency requirement

See also: Residency requirements for petition circulators

As of the passage of Nebraska Legislative Bill 39 in February 2008, circulators are required to be residents. In 2009, Citizens in Charge filed a lawsuit, Citizens in Charge v. Gale, challenging the constitutionality of several provisions of LB 39.[2]

Ban on pay-per-signature

As of the passage of Nebraska Legislative Bill 39 in February 2008, it is illegal for initiative sponsors to pay circulators based on how many signatures the circulator collected.

Witnessing each signature

Circulators are required to witness each act of signing the petition. They are not allowed to leave the petition in a location and come back later to pick up the completed petition form. Circulators are required to sign an affidavit on each petition sheet before a notary public certifying that they were an eye-witness to each signature on the sheet.

Object statement

Circulators are required to provide everyone who signs their petition with the petition's object statement. There is ambiguity in the language regarding whether the circulator is required to read the object statement aloud to each person who signs the petition, or whether the circulator can fulfill the law by providing each signer with a written copy of the object statement. The circulator's affidavit on each petition form requires the circulator to certify that he or she has provided each signer with the object statement.

Petitioner access restrictions

Nebraska has a law prohibiting petition circulators from gathering signatures within 200 feet of polling places while elections are being conducted. In 2006, a federal judge in the case of Groene v. Seng issued a temporary restraining order against the cities of Omaha, Lincoln, and Grand Island, ordering that the cities were required to allow circulators to stand on public property when they were asking people for signatures. In 2008, Attorney General Jon Bruning issued an advisory opinion stating that private property owners in Nebraska are not required by that decision to allow circulators to collect signatures on private property.

Circulators are required to notify potential petition signers as to whether they are collecting signatures on a paid or a volunteer basis. This requirement is satisfied by a requirement that each petition form include in red 16-point type a notice as to whether the circulator is paid or volunteer.

Rules regarding petition signers

Those who sign petitions in Nebraska:

  • Must be a registered voter as of the petition deadline. A person who is not registered to vote the day he or she signs the petition can still sign it and have the signature be counted, if he or she subsequently registers to vote by the signature filing deadline.
  • May not sign the petition more than once.
  • May not sign someone else's name on a petition.
  • May not accept anything of value for signing a petition.

Single-subject requirement

Nebraska has a strict single-subject rule.

Legislative tampering

Main article: Legislative tampering

The Nebraska State Legislature can repeal and amend initiated state statute, but not initiated constitutional amendments. The legislature can repeal and amend initiative statutes by a simple majority.

Prohibited initiative subjects

There is a statutory restriction on the use of the initiative for issues that interfere with the Legislature's prerogative to raise the necessary revenue for the state and its political subdivisions.

The three-year rule

The same measure may not be placed on the ballot more often than once in three years. In 2006, the Nebraska Supreme Court ordered the removal of the Three Casinos Initiative from the ballot because of the three-year rule.[3]

Ballot title

When the petition is submitted for verification, the Secretary of State delivers a copy of the measure to the Nebraska Attorney General. The Attorney General then writes a ballot question or title that summarizes (in 100 words or less) the purpose of the measure. In addition, the Attorney General will provide material that explains the effect of a vote for or against the measure. These items will appear on the ballot. If anyone believes that the ballot language is not sufficient or fair, they may file in District Court asking for the language to be changed. This must be filed within 10 days after the language is delivered to the Secretary of State.

The final language (either from the Attorney General or the District Court) is sent by the Secretary of State to each local official for placement on the ballot. The language on the ballot will indicate that the voter is to vote either "For" or "Against" an initiative measure and "Repeal" or "Retain" on a referendum. Prior to the election, there are three informational mechanisms used by the Secretary of State.

Campaign finance requirements

See also: Campaign finance requirements for Nebraska ballot measures

Some of the notable features notable features of Nebraska's campaign finance law include:

  • Nebraska treats groups in support or opposition of a ballot measure differently from other political committees.
  • All campaigns in support or opposition of a referendum must have a surety bond of $5,000 in place within 30 days of first forming a committee.
  • Nebraska requires separate reporting if a registered campaign pays for signature collectors.
  • All advertising expenditures for campaigns are reported as independent expenditures.
  • Normal campaign finance reporting for expenditures can be only for general operating costs and overhead.
  • Nebraska bans campaigns from engaging in business with Nebraska State Lottery contractors.

Proposed changes


Changes in 2011 to laws governing ballot measures

Bills that have or might be introduced in the 2011 session of the Nebraska State Senate include:


Changes in 2010 to laws governing ballot measures

The following proposals were made during the 2009-2010 session of the Nebraska Legislature:

External links