The Lincoln City Council approved expanding the city’s civil rights protections to gays and transgender people on a 5-0 vote Monday evening.

But two conservative advocacy groups will be organizing a petition drive to stop the proposal from going into effect until there is a city-wide vote on the issue.

The Nebraska Family Council and Family First will be distributing petitions to collect the more than 2,500 signatures of registered city voters needed to get the issue on the ballot, said Al Riskowski, executive director of Nebraska Family Council.

Under a provision of the city charter, the coalition has just 15 days to collect the signatures.

The five Democrats on the council -- Carl Eskridge, DiAnna Schimek, Gene Carroll, Doug Emery and Jonathan Cook -- voted for the proposal, while the two Republicans -- Adam Hornung and Jon Camp -- abstained, saying they had a conflict of interest.

“Prejudice and discrimination are never right in this community for any reasons,” said Eskridge, sponsor of the proposal.

“This is good for Lincoln. It says this is a progressive community, open to whoever chooses to come ... a welcoming city ... a respectful community to live, work, play and raise families,” he said.

A week ago, council members listened to seven hours of public testimony on the anti-discrimination proposal, labeled the "fairness amendment."

Similar to what the city council in Omaha approved earlier this year, Lincoln's amendment says that decisions about whether you can be hired or not hired, fired or not fired, or denied housing cannot be based on who you live with or who you have a relationship with.   

Councilman Adam Hornung said he had a conflict of interest because he felt the council vote violated state law.

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Hornung said he was relying on a recent state attorney general’s opinion that said city civil rights laws could only be expanded by a vote of the people or through legislation passed by the Unicameral.

City attorney Rod Confer offered a different legal opinion to city leaders, contending the council could by its own vote add two new classes, gender identity and sexual orientation, to the city’s civil rights law. 

The original civil rights language was an amendment to the city charter, approved by a city-wide vote in 1966, Horning pointed out.

Several other categories -- familial status, age and disability -- later were added by a City Council vote.

The recent attorney general’s opinion also is a primary reason for the referendum campaign to get the issue on a city-wide ballot, according to Riskowski.

People feel that the proper course is to have a city-wide vote, based on that opinion, he said. The Lincoln Independent Business Association, which represents hundreds of Lincoln businesses, called for a public vote last week.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.

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