Petition Restrictions Challenged in Lawsuit

The Complaint

Click Here to read the full complaint filed with the court.

An Omaha businessman is taking his fight for petition rights to federal court. Kent Bernbeck filed suit on Tuesday challenging the constitutionality of restrictions placed on the right to petition in Nebraska.

Bernbeck is actually challenging two state laws. One is a constitutional provision that requires geographic distributions among at least 38 counties for signors on initiative or referendum petitions. The second challenge involves a law that prohibits commission payments to people who circulate petitions.

Bernbeck says that both state laws violate constitutional guarantees assuring the right to engage in political speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances.

The complaint notes that challenges in other federal courts have resulted in rulings that struck down similar laws in other states. Bernbeck claims Nebraska's current laws have prevented him from getting initiatives on the ballot.

The suit names as Defendants, Nebraska Secretary of State, John Gale and the Village of Denton’s Clerk, Charlotte TeBrink. In 2012, Mr. Bernbeck collected signatures on petitions for ordinances requiring municipalities to publish the names of their lobbyists. The Village of Denton, and other towns sued Bernbeck to keep the measure off their ballots.

In a statement announcing the federal suit, Bernbeck’s lawyer, David Domina of Omaha was quoted as saying, “Mr. Bernbeck was prohibited from exercising his initiative and referendum rights as granted by the laws of this State, and the United States. He is bringing this challenge to guarantee all Nebraskans can participate in this core democratic process - a process so important that the founders of our nation called out the right as fundamental and to be preserved without intrusion.”

Bernbeck was quoted in the statement as saying, “In 1897, Nebraska became the first state in the Union to grant the citizens the right to petition local governments. Protecting these rights is necessary to assure a responsive government and laws that intentionally set up roadblocks to these rights must be challenged.”

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