A Stanton Nebraska family, the Bernbecks, want City government to put a slide in the municipal swimming pool. The Bernbecks are long-time Stantonians. They acquired an extensive, dynamically sound, and useful piece of recreational equipment with the intention of donating it to the City. They offered installation costs.
But, the City Council declined to act. So, the Bernbecks petitioned to put the issue on the City ballot.
The desire to improve the swimming pool in Stanton, a northeast Nebraska county seat community of 1,500, led to the Bernbeck family’s decision to file suit challenging the constitutional invalidity of four separate provisions of Nebraska’s laws governing initiative and referendum petitions designed to place new laws, or repeal existing ones, before voters. Domina Law Group pc llo filed the case for the Bernbeck family in US District Court on January 5. The Complaint may be read here.
The suit, whose first-named Plaintiff is Kent Bernbeck, challenges:
- Neb Rev Stat § 18-2515 which prohibits Kent Bernbeck from being a chief sponsor of the petition because he lives just outside the City of Stanton.
- Neb Rev Stat § 32-110 which prohibits Kelsey Bernbeck from serving as a circulator, though she would be a qualified elector by the time of the election, but does not meet a deadline in the statutes designed to apply to a different ballot sequencing process.
- Neb Rev Stat § 32-630(g) which prohibits petition circulators from living outside the political subdivision or paying or receiving payment to circulate petitions.
- Neb Rev Stat § 32-629 which prohibits volunteers who are not electors of the State of Nebraska from circulating petitions.
The Bernbecks sued for an injunction asserting their constitutional rights to free speech and to petition their government, secured by the First and Fourteenth Amendments, have been infringed. They seek relief under 42 USC § 1983.
Defendants named in the case are the Stanton City Clerk and the Nebraska Secretary of State.
“The Bernbeck family, long-time friends of our law firm, asked us to help them get their issue before the ballot, and to challenge why the signatures they collected for this purpose would not count simply because they were assisted by non-resident family members, or a 17 year old, who will be 18 when the election is held. We looked at the statutes, and we think Nebraska has serious constitutional issues lurking in its initiative and referendum laws,” Dave Domina said.
The suit seeks a declaration that the challenged laws are unconstitutional and an injunction prohibiting their enforcement.
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