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Death penalty opponents lost a bid Friday to keep the question of whether the ultimate penalty should return to Nebraska off the ballot in November.

Christy and Richard Hargesheimer of Lincoln had sought an injunction to keep Secretary of State John Gale from placing the question on the ballot, saying the petition drive that gathered some 169,000 signatures failed to disclose Gov. Pete Ricketts as a sponsor.

But the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state and a pro-death penalty group, which argued that Ricketts wasn’t a sponsor, despite the fact that he and his father contributed one-third of the $913,000 raised by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty and his close allies took roles to promote it.

In Friday's order, Supreme Court Justice Lindsey Miller-Lerman said sponsors are individuals or entities who assume responsibility for the initiative or referendum process, so Ricketts would not be required to be listed as one.

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Lawmakers didn’t define “sponsor” or say what it meant to sponsor a petition in the statute, which left it a question for the court to decide.

Attorneys for the Hargesheimers contended it was important for the public to know about Ricketts’ contributions, both financial and otherwise. But the state’s high court found that the disclosure of financial backers was met by other statutes that require their identification.

And the court affirmed Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret’s dismissal of the suit in February.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.

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Lori Pilger is a public safety reporter.

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