Standing in front of a large “Let Us Vote” banner, leaders of a petition drive to get the fairness ordinance on a citywide ballot announced they have collected four times the number of signatures needed.

The campaign handed in petitions with 10,092 signatures by the 4:30 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

The 310 volunteers gathered the signatures of registered voters during the past two weeks to require the Lincoln City Council to either repeal the new fairness ordinance or put the issue on the ballot for voters to decide.

In mid-May, the council passed an ordinance that expands the city’s civil rights law to cover gender identity and sexual orientation.

It bans discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in employment, housing and public accommodations in Lincoln.

The city charter allows residents to seek a referendum on a newly passed ordinance by collecting enough signatures in a 15-day period. 

Leaders of the petition drive stressed their desire to see the issue on the ballot and urged the council and mayor to let people vote on the issue, even if city attorney Rod Confer believes the petition language is flawed.

“The referendum is about the process. It calls for a vote of the people," said Al Riskowski, executive director of the Nebraska Family Council.

The volunteers went out in good faith to collect signatures, said Riskowski. “It’s only fair that the City Council schedule a vote on the sexual orientation, gender identity ordinance," he said.

“We followed the legal process. Now we expect them to do the same.”

Another petition drive leader said he would expect the state Supreme Court to uphold the petition process even if the language is slightly flawed.

The state high court has consistently, liberally construed residents' rights to petition, said Dave Bydalek, executive director of Family First.

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“We would be in a very good position if this went to court,” he said.

Though the two organizations leading the petition drive have stressed the right to vote aspect, both will be asking Lincolnites to vote against the ordinance that will have “wide-ranging ramifications,” Riskowski said.

The first step of the process is for the county election commissioner's office to check the signatures to make sure those signing are registered voters in Lincoln.

If at least 2,489 registered voters signed, implementation of the ordinance is suspended and the issue goes to the City Council for a decision.

Election Commissioner Dave Shively said it would take his office a week or two to verify signatures.

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

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