Ballot initiatives that encourage economic development and repeal slavery language in the state constitution will appear on the Nebraska ballot in November.
The Nebraska Tax Increment Financing Repayment Amendment increases the repayment period for TIF in blighted areas, which can help stimulate economic growth. The second amendment on the ballot is Remove Slavery as Punishment for Crime, which removes language in the Nebraska state constitution that says slavery can be used as punishment for a crime.
Both ballot measures were proposed in 2019 by Sen. Justin Wayne, who represents District 13 and lives in Omaha. Wayne hopes increasing the repayment period from 15 years to 20 years for TIF in blighted areas will lead to economic opportunities. TIF allows the local government to issue bonds to finance improvements in areas that are in need of redevelopment. These are areas with an average unemployment rate that is 200% or more of the average state unemployment rate and a poverty rate that is more than 20% of the state rate.
Wayne said areas across Nebraska will benefit from TIF repayment extensions, but specifically District 11 and District 13 in Omaha will benefit.
“This would give them an additional tool for economic development,” he said.
Wayne’s other proposed amendment is more symbolic and does not affect inmates who work while in prison. The state banned slavery and involuntary servitude in 1875, but slavery as punishment for crime is still in the constitution.
“Our constitution symbolizes our values, and I don’t believe slavery is for any reason a value that we hold,” Wayne said. “I don’t think as a state we condone slavery.”
There are more measures that could appear on the Nov. 3 ballot if they receive enough signatures by July 2. In order for an initiative to make the ballot, it needs to receive signatures from 5% of registered voters in 38 counties, or 121,669 signatures.
The Nebraska medical marijuana initiative already has 182,000 signatures and is likely to qualify for the ballot, according to a Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana press release dated July 2.
“This petition only confirms what we felt for a long time, that there is overwhelming support. It doesn’t matter your age, where you live in the state or what your political party is,” said Sen. Anna Wishart of District 27, a proponent of legalizing medical marijuana. “It shows a diversity of people coming out to support this effort.”
Wishart, who lives in Lincoln, said the effort to legalize medical marijuana is led by parents of children with epilepsy, veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, cancer survivors and others. Getting signatures proved difficult, however, once COVID-19 social distancing restrictions were introduced.
“COVID-19 has been our biggest opponent in this petition drive, but we met the challenge,” Wishart said.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana set up tables where people could drive-up and sign the petition from a 6-foot distance. Thirty-three other U.S. states have approved the use of medical marijuana.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana teamed up with other advocacy groups who share their cause, including the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that helps medical marijuana groups pass state legislation and believes criminalizing medical marijuana can be harmful.
“It forces people who suffer to continue suffering or become a criminal and potentially become arrested,” said Jared Moffat, who lives in Rhode Island and has worked with ballot campaigns across the country as the campaign coordinator for Marijuana Policy Project. “This is really a human issue that comes down to basic compassion.”
Another potential measure that is pending is authorizing gaming at racetracks. Proponents include Nebraska Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Ho-Chunk, Inc. and Keep the Money in Nebraska, a political committee gathering signatures.
The state constitution prohibits the operation of games of chance at racetracks in Nebraska, however, three bills are being petitioned to add gambling and enact gambling regulation and taxing.
Keep the Money in Nebraska delivered 475,000 signatures for its three related petitions to the Secretary of State at the Capitol on July 2 and believes casino gambling will create jobs for the state.
According to a statement on Keep the Money in Nebraska’s website, the group also believes legalizing casino gaming will generate a new tax revenue stream. Some of the six proposed locations for casino gambling include Lincoln Race Course, Fonner Park in Grand Island and Fairplay Park in Hastings.
At a July 2 press conference, Gov. Pete Ricketts said he does not support expanded gambling nor does he support legalizing medical marijuana. Ricketts does not plan to put money into opposition efforts.
“There are all sorts of social problems that come along with expanding gambling, which is why Nebraskans have historically rejected expanding gambling here in the state,” he said. “ I certainly support rejecting expanded gambling and would encourage other Nebraskans to support rejecting it as well.”
Ricketts also denounced medical marijuana and believes it is an effort by commercial firms to avoid regulation.
“We have a process in place to keep people safe through the FDA. That’s the process that should be followed,” he said. “We’ll continue to talk to Nebraskans about the harm that will be caused Nebraskans by both of these ballot initiatives.”
All petitions are received by the Secretary of State office, which ultimately decides which petitions qualify. Official confirmation of qualifying petitions will be announced sometime mid-August.
Reporter Natalie Stanley contributed to this report.