Lawsuit filed to change Nebraska petition laws - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 2:38 am
Lawsuit filed to change Nebraska petition laws

LINCOLN — A veteran of multiple petition drives and lawsuits is taking on the state's petition law once again.

Kent Bernbeck of Omaha filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday challenging two petition requirements as violations of his constitutional rights.

The first is a provision in the Nebraska Constitution requiring a geographic distribution of petition signers.

To make the ballot, an initiative petition must have signatures from at least 5 percent of voters in at least two-fifths, or 38, of Nebraska's 93 counties.

The requirement is in addition to constitutional provisions governing the total number of signatures that must be collected.

The second is a 2008 state law banning payment of petition circulators by the signature.

Bernbeck claims, in the lawsuit (PDF), that the two requirements have prevented him from getting petitions on the ballot. Both increase the time and cost of exercising his rights, he said.

Bernbeck's attorney, David Domina of Norfolk, said Bernbeck filed the suit to protect rights for all Nebraskans.

“He is bringing this challenge to guarantee all Nebraskans can participate in this core democratic process,” Domina said, “a process so important that the founders of our nation called out the right as fundamental and to be preserved without intrusion.”

The lawsuit marks the second time Bernbeck has challenged the per-signature payment ban, but his first time to challenge the geographic distribution requirements for signatures.

Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale, who was named as a defendant, said he could not comment on the lawsuit.

“The area of initiative petitions is quite subject to litigation, so there are regularly new lawsuits and new decisions across the country,” he said. “We have had our share, and this is just the most recent one.”

In the lawsuit, he argues that the distribution requirement dilutes the voices and votes of people living in Nebraska's most populous counties.

He notes that the five counties nearest to his home — Douglas, Sarpy, Dodge, Saunders and Washington — contain 41.56 percent of the state population.

Meanwhile, the 64 least populated counties combined have fewer people than Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

Three years ago, Bernbeck was part of another lawsuit challenging the per-signature payment ban, as well as restrictions on who could circulate petitions.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon threw out a restriction on out-of-state circulators but upheld the per-signature payment ban and age limits on circulators. Bataillon said the payment ban had been upheld in three federal appeals courts.

In the current lawsuit, Bernbeck said the ban is similar to a Colorado law that was recently thrown out in federal court.

He said the requirement kept him from succeeding last year with a petition drive in Denton, a Lancaster County village. He used a circulator who was paid per signature.

Denton Village Clerk Charlotte TeBrink refused to accept the petition and a Lancaster County court upheld her decision. The court ruled the three signatures from the paid circulator were invalid and the 13 remaining signatures were not enough to qualify the petition for the ballot.

The suit also named TeBrink as a defendant.

The lawsuit claimed that paying circulators by the hour increases costs because circulators do not have enough incentive to produce.

Backers of the per-signature payment ban said it was needed to prevent problems seen in past state petition drives.

Bernbeck argues in his suit that the number of petitions making the ballot has dropped in states that enacted per-signature payment bans.

Bernbeck has had mixed success with past petition law challenges. He was part of a 1996 lawsuit that overturned several circulator restrictions.

Contact the writer: Martha Stoddard

martha.stoddard@owh.com    |   402-473-9583    |  

Martha covers the Nebraska Legislature, the governor, state agencies, and health, education and budget issues out of our Lincoln bureau.

Read more related stories
Omaha police investigate two Sunday shootings
Sole big donor to Beau McCoy says he expects nothing in return
Firefighters battle brush fire near Fontenelle Forest
Sioux City riverboat casino prepares to close, still hoping to be saved
Omaha high schoolers to help canvass for Heartland 2050
Mizzou alumni aim to attract veterinary students to Henry Doorly Zoo
Grant ensures that Sioux City can start building children's museum
Party looks to 'nudge' women into public office in Iowa
For birthday, Brownell-Talbot student opts to give, not get
Two taken to hospital after fire at Benson home
Grace: Pipe organ concert a tribute to couple's enduring love
Omaha-area jails and ERs new front line in battling mental illness
Convicted killer Nikko Jenkins might await his sentence in prison
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
Civil rights hearing to consider voting policies in Midwest
17 senators in Nebraska Legislature hit their (term) limits
It's a pursuit of pastel at Spring Lake Park's Easter egg hunt
Financial picture improving for city-owned Mid-America Center
No injuries after fire at midtown's old Mercer Mansion
29-year-old Omahan arrested for 22nd time in Lincoln
Police: Slaying of woman in Ralston apartment likely over drugs
Explosion near 29th, Woolworth damages vehicles
Omaha police arrest man, 19, accused in March shooting
Earth gets its day in the sun at Elmwood Park
Beau McCoy strikes Obama doll in TV ad; Democrats are not happy
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Kelly: 70 years after a deadly D-Day rehearsal, Omahan, WWII vet will return to Europe
A World War II veteran from Omaha will return this week to Europe to commemorate a tragedy in the run-up to D-Day.
Dickson’s Week in Review, April 13-19
On Twitter some guy tweeted that the spring game isn’t taken as seriously as a regular-season contest. What was your first clue? When the head coach entered waving a cat aloft?
Kelly: A California university president returns to her Nebraska roots on Ivy Day
The main speaker at today's Ivy Day celebration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a college president who grew up roping calves and earned her Ph.D. at the prestigious Oxford University in England.
Breaking Brad: Stuck in a claw machine? You get no Easter candy
I know of one kid in Lincoln who will be receiving a lump of coal from the Easter Bunny, just as soon as he's extricated from that bowling alley claw machine.
Breaking Brad: Mountain lion season's over, but the bunny's fair game!
Thursday was the last day of a Nebraska Legislature session. Before leaving town, legislators passed a bill to hold a lottery to hunt the Easter Bunny.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »