LINCOLN — Supporters of a Medicaid expansion proposal cheered Wednesday after the Nebraska Supreme Court cleared away the last obstacle to voters having a say on the measure.

The State Supreme Court ruled against a lawsuit filed by former State Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial and Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft that sought to keep the measure off the Nov. 6 ballot.

The proposal, which will appear on the ballot as Initiative 427, already met the requirements for collecting petition signatures.

Supporters submitted almost 137,000 signatures of registered voters in early July. Last month, Secretary of State John Gale certified almost 105,000 signatures as valid, far more than the 84,000 required to put the measure before voters.

Meg Mandy, campaign manager for Insure the Good Life, which led the petition drive, said the court had “once again landed on the side of the voters.”

She said expansion backers now will continue working to win support for the measure, which she said would provide health coverage to an estimated 90,000 low-income Nebraskans and bring economic benefits to Nebraska.

“This has been wildly popular among voters across the state,” she said. “I think we will be successful in November.”

The proposal would cover single adults and couples without minor children who cannot qualify for Medicaid now, as well as parents and disabled people with incomes up to 138 percent of the poverty level — $16,753 for a single person or $34,638 for a family of four.

Christensen and Brasch had appealed their case last week, after losing in district court.

In a statement released Wednesday, they suggested that further legal challenges would be filed if voters approve the measure. The Supreme Court dismissed two issues in their lawsuit as being raised too early in the process.

“There is still no way for the Legislature to fund the expansion of Medicaid without damaging existing programs, like aid to education, property tax relief and existing parts of the Medicaid system,” the senators said.

So far, no organized opposition to the measure has appeared.

A spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts, who fought every legislative attempt to pass Medicaid expansion, said the governor is focused on his own re-election campaign.

“As he has said before, Governor Ricketts is concerned that Medicaid expansion would crowd out funding for essential priorities like property tax relief and K-12 education,” said Matthew Trail, the governor’s campaign spokesman. “Now, the decision rests with Nebraska voters.”

In their lawsuit, Christensen and Brasch had argued, among other things, that the proposal contains more than one subject, in violation of the Nebraska Constitution, and does not properly disclose the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest as a petition sponsor.

The Supreme Court disagreed on both issues, noting that “the right of initiative is precious to the people and one which the courts are zealous to preserve to the fullest tenable measure of spirit as well as letter.”

The court rejected the idea that Appleseed should have been listed as a sponsor because it had registered Insure the Good Life as a service mark. Documents filed with the Secretary of State’s office had listed Insure the Good Life as a sponsor, along with Sarah Gershon, former Sen. Kathy Campbell and Dr. Rowen Zetterman.

The court referred back to a 2016 ruling that said Gov. Pete Ricketts did not have to be listed as a sponsor of the referendum to undo the death penalty repeal.

In that case, the court had said sponsors are the people or entities that agree to take on legal responsibility for a petition measure.

The current opinion, written by recently appointed Judge John Freudenberg, said requiring others to be listed as sponsors because they finance or promote a measure would create legal ambiguity for petition drives, thus undermining the people’s right of initiative.

The high court also rejected the argument that the proposal contained multiple subjects — one part expanding Medicaid eligibility as allowed by the federal Affordable Care Act and another directing state officials to seek federal approval and funding for the expansion.

In its opinion, the court said the key question is how the two parts relate to the primary question. In this case, it said, expanding Medicaid is the primary issue and the federal funding is a related detail.

“The voters considering the initiative petition here at issue are unlikely to be confused and persuaded to vote for the primary purpose of expanding Medicaid in order to obtain, more generally, federal funds,” the court said.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-473-9583.

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