LINCOLN — Opponents appear to have collected enough petition signatures to stop Lincoln's gay civil rights ordinance from taking effect.
But whether the issue goes to voters will depend on decisions by the Lincoln City Council and city officials in coming days.
Petition organizers said Tuesday they turned in 10,092 signatures to the city clerk. That's more than four times the number needed to block the anti-discrimination ordinance and potentially force a vote of the people.
The Rev. Al Riskowski, executive director of Nebraska Family Council, said some 300 volunteers circulated petitions during the past two weeks.
“We know voters have been motivated to get out and collect signatures,” he said. “It's only fair that the City Council now schedule an election for a vote.”
Carl Eskridge, the Lincoln City Council member who introduced the anti-discrimination ordinance, said he doesn't know how the council will respond.
“I would not eliminate any options at this point,” he said.
Under Lincoln's city charter, the council can vote to repeal an ordinance that is the target of a successful referendum petition.
The other option under the charter is to put the matter on the ballot at a special or general election.
In this case, there's also the possibility of a legal challenge.
Lincoln City Attorney Rod Confer said last week there were legal concerns with the form of the petition. He would not reveal those concerns, saying his job is to advise city officials.
Dave Bydalek of the group Family First, the Nebraska affiliate of Focus on the Family, said he hopes city officials don't let those concerns keep the issue off the ballot.
“The question is whether the mayor and City Council will go to the time and effort to disenfranchise 10,000 voters,” he said.
Eskridge said he has encouraged the mayor not to pursue a legal challenge.
Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler originally scheduled a Tuesday press conference to discuss the city's response, but it has been postponed until Thursday.
City spokeswoman Diane Gonzolas said Beutler would not comment until then.
The petition concerns an ordinance passed May 14 that bars discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The Lincoln City Council passed the ordinance on a 5-0 vote, with two council members abstaining.
Opponents of the ordinance, led by Family First and the Nebraska Family Council, immediately launched a petition drive to put the matter to a public vote.
Organizers had 15 days to collect about 2,500 signatures, equal to 4 percent of the Lincoln voters who cast ballots in the last governor's election.
Eskridge said he was disappointed but not surprised that the petition appears to have succeeded. He said previous additions to the city's anti-discrimination ordinances have been approved by the council without a public vote or demands for one.
“I think historically it's troubling that this particular group is one that would be singled out,” he said.
The next step will be checking the petition signatures against voter registration records, a job that city officials are referring to the Lancaster County Election Commissioner's Office. Election Commissioner Dave Shively estimated the process could take a week or two.
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