Omaha Sen. Lou Ann Linehan proposes legislation to address signature gatherer misinformation
Omaha Sen. Lou Ann Linehan has recently presented a bill aimed at streamlining the process for individuals to remove their names from referendum petitions. The proposed legislation would allow people to easily withdraw their signatures by sending a signed letter to the Nebraska Secretary of State.
Signature gatherers accused of misleading constituents
Linehan alleges that signature gatherers misled constituents into signing a petition seeking the repeal of the Opportunity Scholarships Act. To address this issue, the bill would enable individuals to have their names removed from the petition by simply sending a signed letter to the Nebraska Secretary of State. Currently, the only way to remove one’s name from a petition is by sending a letter accompanied by a notarized affidavit.
“They were spreading lies about the Opportunity Scholarships Act,” Linehan stated, explaining her motivation behind introducing the bill. She had heard from constituents that signature gatherers were using misinformation to persuade people to sign the petition, which aimed to put the question of repealing her private school scholarship program on the November ballot.
New law clarifications and opposition response
The Opportunity Scholarships Act does not directly appropriate taxpayer dollars to private school vouchers. Instead, it permits businesses and individuals to donate a portion of their owed state income tax, up to $100,000 per year, to organizations that grant private school tuition scholarships. Estates and trusts can donate up to $1 million annually. This tax credit, which is equivalent to the donated amount, would otherwise go into the state’s general revenue fund.
Opponents of the Opportunity Scholarships Act launched a petition effort immediately after the law was passed last year, aiming to include the question of using public funds for private school tuition on the November 2024 ballot. The number of valid signatures gathered surpassed the required threshold, leading Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen to approve the ballot measure.
Linehan, in an effort to prevent the referendum from appearing on the November ballot, sent a letter to Evnen requesting him to declare the initiative unconstitutional and remove it. However, supporters of the ballot initiative have also sent a letter to Evnen, urging him to protect the constitutional right of Nebraska voters to engage in the referendum petition process.
Constituent testimonies and unlikely alliances
Clarice Jackson, an Omaha resident, testified before the Government, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee, sharing her experience of being misled by a signature gatherer outside a store. According to Jackson, the gatherer falsely claimed that signing the petition would support Linehan’s bill. Jackson and several others who had also been misled demanded to have their names removed, only to be informed that they needed to submit a notarized affidavit to their county election office or the secretary of state’s office.
In a surprising turn of events, Linehan found support for her bill from an unexpected ally, state Sen. Danielle Conrad, a Democrat. Conrad argued that removing one’s name from a petition should be as simple as signing it in the first place.
However, opponents of the bill argued that simplifying the process of removing a signature could potentially encourage individuals who oppose a particular petition effort to pressure signers into retracting their names. Sen. Conrad countered this argument, emphasizing that such interactions already occur and are protected as free speech.
The fate of Linehan’s bill now rests in the hands of the committee, which will decide at a later date whether to advance the proposed legislation for full legislative debate.