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Stories about Nebraska

Supporters of payday lending rate caps, expanded gambling, and medical marijuana initiatives file signatures in Nebraska

Supporters of payday lending rate caps, gambling expansion at horse racetracks, and medical marijuana submitted signatures to the Nebraska Secretary of State by the July 3 deadline to qualify for the November 3 ballot. In Nebraska, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated state statute for the ballot is equal to 7 percent of registered voters at the time of the deadline for filing signatures. The requirement is 10 percent for initiated constitutional amendments. According to the July 2020 voter registration report, there were a total of 1,222,741 registered voters in Nebraska. This means that approximately 85,592 valid signatures are required for state statutes, and 122,274 valid signatures are needed for constitutional amendments.
Nebraskans for Responsible Lending, the campaign sponsoring the Payday Lender Interest Rate Cap Initiative, was the first to file signatures on June 25. Supporters submitted approximately 120,000 signatures for the initiative, requiring a signature validity rate of approximately 71 percent for the initiated state statute to qualify for the ballot.
The initiative would limit the annual interest charged for delayed deposit services—also known as payday lending—to 36 percent. Across the country, 16 states and the District of Columbia have enacted a 36 percent interest rate cap. In 2018, a similar measure was approved in Colorado.
Keep the Money in Nebraska is sponsoring one constitutional amendment and two state statutes that would allow games of chance at licensed racetracks and provide for the taxation and regulation of such games. The group filed about 200,000 signatures for the Constitutional Amendment to Allow Laws Authorizing Gaming at Racetracks Initiative, requiring a signature validity rate of approximately 61 percent to meet the requirement of 122,274. The group filed about 135,000 signatures each for the Tax on Gaming at Racetracks Initiative and the Authorizing Gaming at Racetracks Initiative, requiring signature validity rates of 63 percent to meet the requirement of 85,592 valid signatures.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana filed 182,000 signatures in support of a constitutional amendment that would legalize medical marijuana. To meet the signature requirement, the secretary of state needs to verify at least 61 percent of the signatures as valid. As of February 2020, 33 states and Washington, D.C., had passed laws legalizing or decriminalizing medical marijuana. Two prior medical marijuana initiatives did not make the Nebraska ballot in 2014 and 2016.
Campaigns behind three initiatives that were cleared for signature gathering did not submit enough signatures by the deadline. The initiatives concerned legislative and congressional redistricting, marijuana, and income tax credits.
One citizen-initiated measure qualified for the Nebraska ballot in both 2016 and 2018. In 2016, the signature validity rate of the petition was 85.79 percent. In 2018, the signature validity rate was 78.55%.
Based on a sampling of 143 citizen-initiated measures on the ballot from 2006 through 2018 across the country, successful petitions featured an average signature validity rate of 75.33 percent. Signature verification processes and petition requirements vary widely by state.
The Nebraska Legislature also referred to constitutional amendments to the November ballot: the Remove Slavery as Punishment for Crime from Constitution Amendment and the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Repayment Amendment. Nebraska requires a 60 percent vote by legislators during one legislative session to refer a constitutional amendment to a general election ballot.
Between 1996 and 2018, voters approved 53 percent (39 of 73) and rejected 47 percent (34 of 73) of the ballot measures. An average of six measures appeared on statewide general election ballots during that period.
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Proponents of Nebraska payday lending interest cap initiative submit signatures

On June 25, 2020, Nebraskans for Responsible Lending submitted over 120,000 signatures for its initiative that would limit all fees charged by payday lenders to an annual interest rate of 36%. Nebraska law currently allows delayed deposit services licensees to charge a fee of no more than 15% of the amount loaned and limits total loan amounts to $500 and loan terms to a maximum of 34 days. In Nebraska law, payday loan services are called delayed deposit services.

Across the country, 16 states and the District of Columbia have enacted a 36% annual interest rate cap for payday lenders. In 2018, a similar measure was approved in Colorado.

In Nebraska, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated state statute for the ballot is equal to 7% of registered voters as of the deadline for filing signatures. According to the June 2020 voter registration report, there were a total of 1,216,692 registered voters in Nebraska at the time of the state’s signature deadline. This means that a total of 85,168 valid signatures are required to qualify this initiative for the ballot, which means Nebraskans for Responsible Lending needs a signature validity rate of approximately 71% for the initiative to qualify for the ballot.

Because of the unique signature requirement based on registered voters, Nebraska is also the only state where petition sponsors cannot know the exact number of signatures required until they are submitted. Nebraska law also features a distribution requirement mandating that petitions contain signatures from 5% of the registered voters in each of two-fifths (38) of Nebraska’s 93 counties.

The state legislature has referred two constitutional amendments to the November 2020 ballot. The signature submission deadline for 2020 Nebraska citizen initiatives is July 3.

From 1996 through 2018, there have been 73 statewide measures on the ballot in Nebraska. Thirty-nine (53%) were approved. Of the 73 total measures, 17 were ballot initiatives. Eight of the 17 ballot initiatives (47%) were approved, and nine (53%) were defeated.



No incumbents defeated in Nebraska’s state legislative primaries

On May 12, 2020, Nebraska voters cast their ballots in the state’s legislative primaries. Nebraska is the only state with a unicameral legislature, meaning it only has a state Senate. It is also the only state with a nonpartisan legislature. All candidates for a seat—Democrats, Republicans, and others—compete in a single primary. The top two candidates in the primary proceed to the general election.

While candidates are listed as officially nonpartisan, Ballotpedia has collected information from numerous sources to determine their political affiliations.

Twenty-five seats are up for election in 2020. There were six primaries, the lowest number in over two decades. Two incumbents faced contested primaries, Julie Slama (R) and Mike Hilgers (R), and both advanced to the general election.

Six seats (24%) were open, meaning the incumbent did not seek re-election. This is slightly lower than the eight open seats in 2018 (33%) and higher than the decade-low three open seats in 2010 (13%). All six open seats are held by term-limited senators who were ineligible to run for re-election this year.

Republicans are the only candidates in six general election races. All six seats are currently held by Republicans. Democrats are the only candidates in three races. One of those seats—District 11—is currently held by Ernie Chambers, a term-limited independent, and will flip to Democratic control after the general election.

Heading into the general election, Republicans hold a 30-18-1 supermajority in the state senate. Gov. Pete Ricketts is a Republican, making the state one of 21 Republican trifectas.

General election winners will be responsible for redrawing the state’s congressional and state legislative district lines after the 2020 census. In Nebraska, a simple majority is required to approve a redistricting plan, which is subject to veto by the governor. A veto can be overridden with a 3/5 vote equal to 30 senators.


Eastman wins Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary

The statewide primary for Nebraska was held on May 12, 2020. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Candidates ran in primaries for one U.S. Senate seat and three U.S. House seats.

In the U.S. Senate Republican primary, incumbent Ben Sasse (R) faced one challenger and received 75% of the vote, advancing to the general election. Chris Janicek (D) won the Democratic primary after facing six challengers. Janicek advanced to the general election, receiving 31% of the vote.

In the U.S. House District 1 primaries, incumbent Jeffrey Fortenberry (R), Kate Bolz (D), and Dennis Grace (L) advanced to the general election. Bolz was the only primary winner to run in a contested race.

In the U.S. House District 2 primaries, incumbent Don Bacon (R), Kara Eastman (D), and Tyler Schaeffer (L) advanced to the general election. Schaeffer was the only winner to run unopposed.

In the U.S. House District 3 primaries, incumbent Adrian Smith (R), Mark Elworth Jr. (D), and Dustin Hobbs (L) advanced to the general election. Smith was the only primary winner to run in a contested race.

Nebraska’s primary was the 9th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next primary is on May 19 in Oregon.

Going into the 2020 elections, both U.S. Senate seats and all three U.S. House seats in Nebraska are held by Republicans. The U.S. Senate has 45 Democrats, 53 Republicans, and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. Only 33 out of 100 Senate seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 51 seats. The U.S. House has 233 Democrats, 196 Republicans, one Libertarian, and five vacancies. All 435 seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 218 seats.

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Eastman (D) advances to general election rematch against Bacon (R) in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District

Kara Eastman defeated Ann Ashford and Gladys Harrison in the Democratic primary for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District on May 12, 2020. Eastman received 61.8% of the vote, followed by Ashford with 31.6% and Harrison with 6.6%. She faces incumbent Don Bacon (R) in the November 3 general election, as she did in 2018. In 2018, Bacon defeated Eastman 51% to 49%.

Democrats have a 233-196 advantage over Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. There is one Libertarian member, and there are five vacancies. Currently, if Republicans win 19 Democratic-controlled districts in the November general elections, they will win control of the House. If Democrats hold as many districts, they will maintain their control of the chamber.

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Voters in Lincoln and Omaha approve five local ballot measures on Tuesday according to unofficial results

Voters in Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska, approved five local ballot measures on May 12. Unofficial election results indicate that Omaha voters approved Question 1 and Question 2 with 72.86% and 64.70% of the vote, respectively. Question 1 authorized the city to issue $200 million in bonds to fund street maintenance, and Question 2 authorized the city to impose an estimated property tax at a rate of $35 per $100,000 of assessed property value to repay the bonds.

Voters in the Millard Public Schools district also approved $125 million in bonds with 58.57% of the vote. The bond question authorized the school district to impose a 1% property tax to repay the bonds bringing the total estimated property tax to $1,236 per $100,000 of assessed property value.

Voters in Lincoln approved two charter amendments. The Gender Neutral References to Mayoral Office Charter Amendment received 76.51% of the vote. The measure amended the city’s charter to fix typographical errors in the article dealing with appropriations and change all references to the mayoral office to gender-neutral terms.

The City Contracts Charter Amendment received 70.22% of the vote. The measure amended the city’s charter to require mayoral approval on contracts exceeding $50,000, increase the bid requirement from $25,000 to $50,000, and remove the requirement for three informal bids for city contracts.


Nebraska’s primaries to conclude May 12

The statewide primary for Nebraska is on May 12, 2020. In reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, every eligible voter received an absentee ballot application by mail. In-person locations are expected to remain open as planned. The filing deadline to run passed on March 2.

Candidates are running in elections for the following offices:
  • U.S. Senate (1 seat)
  • U.S. House (3 seats)
  • Public Service Commissioner
  • State Board of Regents (2 seats)
  • State Board of Education (4 seats)
  • State Senate (25 seats)
  • State Supreme Court (2 seats)
  • State Court of Appeals (2 seats)
Ballotpedia is also covering local elections in the following areas:
  • Douglas County
  • Lancaster County
  • Omaha
  • Westside Community Schools

Candidates are competing to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Nebraska’s primary is the ninth statewide primary to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next primary is on May 19 in Oregon.

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Ashford, Eastman, and Harrison competing in May 12 Democratic primary for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District

Ann Ashford, Kara Eastman, and Gladys Harrison are running in the Democratic primary for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District on May 12, 2020. Eastman and Ashford have launched television ads and lead in fundraising and endorsements, but Harrison has shared in the race’s media coverage.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, every eligible primary voter will receive an absentee ballot application in the mail. In-person voting locations are expected to remain open as planned.

Health care is a distinguishing issue in the race. Eastman says a Medicare-for-All healthcare plan “would increase efficiencies, reduce overhead costs, allow individuals to choose their provider instead of having to stay in network, eliminate premiums and deductibles, and free employers from having to administer healthcare plans.” Ashford criticized Eastman’s healthcare policy and said it could not pass in a divided Congress. She says she supports strengthening the Affordable Care Act and offering Medicare on the market as a public option. Harrison said Medicare for All might detract from union-negotiated benefits and also supports a public Medicare option.

Former Nebraska governors and U.S. senators Ben Nelson and Bob Kerrey endorsed Ashford. In a statement, Nelson said Ashford would take a “realistic approach when working for the benefit of all of us.” Groups like Justice Democrats and Democracy for America endorsed Eastman. Justice Democrats Executive Director Alexandra Rojas said Eastman was “part of a new generation of Democrats who will fight for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, free college, and ending mass incarceration and deportation.”

Eastman was the 2018 Democratic nominee. In the general election, Eastman lost to incumbent Don Bacon (R) 51% to 49%. In 2016, Bacon defeated then-incumbent Brad Ashford (D) 48.9% to 47.7%.

The 2017 Cook Partisan Voter Index for this district was R+4, meaning that in the previous two presidential elections, this district’s results were four percentage points more Republican than the national average.

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Two Nebraska Supreme Court justices face retention elections in November

Two Nebraska Supreme Court justices, Lindsey Miller-Lerman and Jeffrey Funke will face retention elections on November 3, 2020. Justice Funke was appointed in 2016 by Governor Pete Ricketts (R), while justice Miller-Lerman was appointed in 1998 by Governor Ben Nelson (D).

As of September 2019, six Justices on the court were appointed by a Republican governor, and one judge was appointed by a Democratic governor.

• William Cassel: Appointed by Gov. Dave Heineman (R) in 2012.
• John Freudenberg: Appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in 2018.
• Jeffrey Funke: Appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in 2016.
• Michael Heavican: Appointed by Gov. Dave Heineman (R) in 2006.
• Lindsey Miller-Lerman: Appointed by Gov. Ben Nelson (D) in 1998.
• Jonathan Papik: Appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in 2018.
• Stephanie Stacy: Appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in 2015.

Justices are appointed by the governor through a hybrid nominating commission where neither the governor nor the Nebraska State Bar Association has majority control. The Nebraska Judicial Nominating Commission is made up of four lawyers selected by the Nebraska State Bar Association and four non-lawyers selected by the governor. The commission is chaired by a Nebraska Supreme Court justice who cannot vote.

When vacancies occur, the commission interviews candidates to fill the empty seat on the court. The commission chooses at least two candidates to submit to the governor, who has 60 days to make an appointment. If the governor does not appoint someone in time, the chief justice is responsible for choosing one of the commission’s nominees.

Justices seeking to keep their seats must run in retention elections in the first general election occurring more than three years after their initial appointment by the governor. Justices are then subject to retention every six years. There is no mandatory retirement age for supreme court justices in Nebraska.

Additional Reading:
Nebraska Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Nebraska
Jeffrey Funke
Lindsey Miller Lerman



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