Voter ID, minimum wage petitions qualify for general election ballots

Sept. 6, 2022, 3 p.m. ·

Supporters of raising the minimum wage lug boxes of petitions toward the Secretary of State's office Thursday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)
Supporters of raising the minimum wage lug boxes of petitions toward the Secretary of State's Office. (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

Questions over raising Nebraska's minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2026 and requiring photo identification to vote will be put to voters this November.

Nebraska's Secretary of State Bob Evnen announced on Tuesday that both petitions qualified under state law.

State law requires petitioners gather at least 7% of the state' registered voters – or 86,776 signatures – and 5% of registered voters in 38 counties. Evnen said in his press release the minimum wage petition received 97,245 signatures and qualified in 44 counties.

The voter ID change is an amendment to the state constitution, which requires a higher threshold. In order to qualify, an amendment must garner 10% of voters – or 123,966 signatures – and also 5% in 38 counties. That petition received 136,458 signatures and qualified in 76 counties.

If voters pass it, Nebraska’s minimum wage would increase from $9 to $10.50 per hour by 2023, $12 by 2024, $13.50 by 2025 and $15 by 2026, followed by yearly cost of living adjustments.

Lincoln business owner Dave Titterington said he supports businesses paying their employees more. He said he's seen it help his Wildlife Bird Habitat stores retain employees.

"It's a real benefit for our store to pay those employees a decent wage because they stay with us," Titterington said. "If we end up short because someone's off sick, they're always willing to fill in."

And not only does his business see a benefit, Titterington said it could help the local economy in return.

"That equates into more money for people to spend, and that's going to be essential for running small businesses when the price of doing business has really escalated," he said.

Bob Hallstrom, with the National Federation of Independent Businesses, said some businesses can't afford to add on extra pay given inflation.

"You're looking at a double whammy," Hallstrom said. "You're on the heels of the severe impact of the pandemic and now you're going into inflation, so certainly the costs of doing business are going to adversely affect employers."

He argued that small businesses may have to cut jobs or hours of operation to balance the increasing pay. "None of which would benefit employees," he said.

Bryan Slone, Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry, expressed hesitation in written comments.

"We believe minimum wage should be a uniform federal standard rather than 50 different rules for employers and that leaders must be very thoughtful in their approach, considering the potential impact on inflation and consumer costs in these historic times." he wrote.

Public hearings will be held in each of Nebraska's three congressional districts about the initiatives, according to the Secretary of State. Those have yet to be scheduled and will announced at a later date.

Just over two weeks ago, Evnen's office announced a petition to legalize medical marijuana did not qualify for the ballot. Only 77,000 to 78,000 signatures were validated, marking the second time in three years when that issue did not make the statewide ballot. In 2020, the Nebraska Supreme Court determined the petition violated the state's single subject rule.