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The Nebraska Legislative Resource Office provides a backgrounder on Initiative & Referendum in Nebraska. Information on this page is a summary of this publication.

Initiative & Referendum Basics

  • The people are the second house of the NebraskaLegislature
  •  In the Nebraska Constitution, Article III, sec. 1 states

“The Legislative authority of the state shall be vested in a Legislature in one chamber. The people reserve for themselves the power to propose laws and amendments to the Constitution and to enact or reject the same at the polls, independent of the  Legislature, which power shall be called the power of initiativeThe people also reserve power at their own option to approve or reject at the polls any act, item, section, or part of any act passed by the Legislature, which power shall be called the power of referendum.

How Does the Initiative Process Work?

  • The initiative process allows citizens to propose (or initiate) a statue or constitutional amendment
  • The proposal must include:
    • The object of the petition
    • The text of the measure
    • A sworn statement containing the names and addresses of all petition sponsors
  • Persons signing the petition must:
    • Be registered to vote
    • Sign their own names
    • Sign only once
    • Not accept anything of value for signing
  • Number of signatures required:
    • Based in overall number of votes cast for Governor at the general election immediately preceding the filing of the initiative petition
    • An initiated statute required 7% of registered voters
    • An initiated amendment to the Constitution requires 10% of registered voters
    • Both require signatures of be from at last 5% of voters from 38 of Nebraska’s 93 counties (two-fifths rules)
  • An initiated measure becomes law or part of the constitution if a majority votes to approve it (must be at least 35% of the total vote)
  • No law enacted by initiative can be amended, appealed, modified of impaired except by a vote of 2/3 of the elected legislature
  • No measure can be submitted to the voters by way of initiative more frequently that once in 3 years

How does the Referendum Process Work?

  • The referendum process gives voters “final say”on measures passed by the Legislature.
  • Petition must be filed with the Secretary of State no later than 90 after sine die of the Legislature that passed the measure
  • Proposal must include object if petition, text of measure, and sworn statement with names and addresses  of all petition sponsors
  • Same basic rules for filing and gathering signatures, except
  •  Referendum only needs to collect signatures of  5% of registered voters but must still comply with two-fifths rule for counties.
  • If referendum measure signed by at least 10% of registered voters and complies with two-fifths rule. the act for part of act does not take effect until after the General Election

Wording of Initiative and Referendum

  • The Nebraska Secretary of State coordinates with the Attorney General on a ballot title
  • For an initiative, those in favor are “FOR” and those opposed are “AGAINST”
  • For a referendum, it is an opportunity to override the legislature. To keep the bill, those in favor vote to RETAIN and those opposing enactment vote REPEAL
  • If conflicting measures are files and both are approved, the one with the most votes becomes law.

Judicial Case Impact

Since enactment in 1912 the initiative and referendum process has been amended several times:

  • 1988, U.S Supreme Court struck down a ban on paid circulators
  • 1994, Nebraska Legislature banned petition circulators from payment on per-signature basis
  • 1998 Legislature amended the Constitutional Amendment to create tow ballots proposals that passes requiring initiative measures to contain only one subject and referendums one act of the Legislature
  • 2008 Legislature adopted requirement that petition circulators be 18 years of age. 

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