Suit seeks to keep Medicaid expansion petition off November ballot

Worried that a Medicaid expansion would have a negative impact on property taxes in Nebraska, state Sen. Lydia Brasch has joined a former state senator in filing a lawsuit to keep the issue off the ballot in November’s general election.

Ryan McIntosh of Mattson Rickets Law Firm, Lincoln, filed the suit Monday in Lancaster County District Court on behalf of Brasch and former state Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial.

The suit also says that Christensen, the parent of a child who receives Medicaid benefits, is concerned that if the Medicaid Expansion Petition proceeds “his son’s benefits will be reduced or altered.”

Defendants in the lawsuit include Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale, Insure the Good Life, a ballot question committee, Sara Amanda Gershon of Lincoln, Kathy Campbell, former state senator from Lincoln, and Rowen Zetterman of Omaha, who are committee members.

Last week, the committee submitted more than 133,000 signatures collected from all 93 Nebraska counties.

In a press release, Katie Wolf, communications director for Insure the Good Life, said during the past three months people have been collecting signatures from citizens covering the entire political spectrum to qualify the initiative, which would bring health coverage to residents who are caught in what’s known as “the health coverage gap,” which means they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to be eligible for financial assistance so they can afford coverage through the state’s health insurance exchange.

The state requires around 85,000 valid signatures, including signatures from 7 percent of total registered voters in the state and from 5 percent of registered voters in at least two-fifths of counties. The secretary of state and county clerks have 40 days to certify the signatures with an optional 10-day extension for counties that may need extra time.  

Brasch, who represents Washington, Burt and Cuming counties in the Nebraska Legislature, and Christensen are seeking to stop the certification, and are requesting a declaratory judgement that the expansion petition is invalid and legally insufficient.

Among their arguments is that the petition directs the the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which is part of the executive branch of government, to exercise legislative powers reserved to the legislative branch in violation of the Nebraska Constitution.

They also argue that the petition contains two subjects — expanding eligibility for medical assistance to adults ages 19-64 whose income is equal to or less than 138 percent of the federal poverty rate and directing DHHS to take all actions necessary to maximize federal financial participation in funding medical assistance — which they say violate the state constitution.

“Maximizing federal funding is not natural or necessary to expanding medical assistance as set for in the first subject of the petition,” the suit reads. “Therefore, the Medicaid expansion petition contains two separate and distinct subjects in violation of Article III, Section 2 of the Nebraska Constitution.”

Brasch and Christensen also contend that the committee’s failure to list Nebraska Appleseed, a Nebraska nonprofit corporation, as a sworn sponsor is also a violation, pointing to state statute which says that prior to obtaining signatures on an initiative or referendum petition, a statement of the object of the petition and the text of the measure be filed with the secretary of state together with a sworn statement containing the names and street addresses of every person, corporation or association sponsoring the petition.

Brasch told the Enterprise she was unable to comment on the lawsuit at this time.

Representatives from Insure the Good Life have vowed to fight.

“We are confident that the 135,000 signatures we delivered to the Secretary of State will ensure that Medicaid expansion will appear on the ballot in November,” Meg Mandy, campaign manager, said in a press release responding to the lawsuit. “Senators Lydia Brasch and Mark Christiansen are two politicians who have failed to bring back over $1 billion of Nebraska taxpayers’ money and who have failed to find solutions for working Nebraskans to access healthcare. This is clearly a desperate attempt to block the people’s ability to voice their opinion on this issue and ensure affordable healthcare for 90,000 Nebraskans. 135,000 Nebraska voters demanded this be on the ballot in November and we will fight for their right to vote and be heard.”

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