Nebraska voters will have the opportunity to expand state impeachment laws on Tuesday.
State law allows the legislature to impeach an officeholder for crimes committed while in office.
It does not allow the legislature to impeach an officeholder for crimes committed during the campaign.
“This is a loophole in the current language of the constitution that needs to be closed,” Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln stated during an interview on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.
Avery sponsored LR 19CA, Constitutional Amendment One, that would expand impeachment laws to include crimes committed while in pursuit of an office. Avery points out the loophole nearly played a big role in the impeachment proceedings against University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert who broke state campaign laws.
“The legislature would have had their hands tied had it not been for the fact that he took the oath of office a couple of days before he signed his accountability and disclosure filing,” Avery told Kevin Thomas on KLIN’s Drive Time Lincoln.
Hergert, an agri-businessman from Mitchell, defeated an incumbent on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents. He admitted to the Accountability and Disclosure Commission that he broke campaign finance laws and paid a $33,512 fine. The legislature impeached Hergert and the Nebraska Supreme Court convicted and removed him from office.
A recent case also could be affected.
Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha has pleaded guilty to using campaign funds to gamble. The Attorney General used his discretion to file misdemeanor charges against Council. If the change had been in place, Council could have faced impeachment proceedings.
Avery sought to assure voters that though impeachable offenses include misdemeanors, that don’t mean an officeholder can be thrown out of office for something trivial.
“What they have said, very clearly, is that impeachable offenses are acts that by their nature are subversive of some fundamental or essential principle of government or is highly prejudicial to the public interest,” according to Avery. “So, it’s a very high standard.”