Nebraska Lawmakers Unanimously Protect Privacy and Free Speech

March 28, 2024 | Luke Wachob

The right to support nonprofit causes freely and safely just got a major boost in the Cornhusker State. Governor Jim Pillen signed L.B. 43 into law on March 27, making Nebraska the 18th state to pass the Personal Privacy Protection Act (PPPA). The law will ensure that Americans’ sensitive personal information, such as their name and home address, remains private when donating to nonprofit causes in Nebraska.

“Donor privacy is a key tenet for nonprofits and an important protection for free speech. Every Nebraskan should be free to support causes they believe in without fear of harassment or abuse,” said Heather Lauer, CEO of People United for Privacy.

Following last year’s successful effort in Alabama, the Nebraska Legislature becomes the second body to pass the PPPA unanimously. The bill never received a ‘No’ vote – including in a committee vote and three floor votes – at any stage of the legislative process.

The PPPA is a response to the growing problem of doxing – the malicious use of public records to target Americans with threats, scams, and harassment. A range of bad actors, from corrupt government employees to political extremists, seek to retaliate against Americans for supporting causes they oppose. The PPPA protects all citizens and nonprofits equally by prohibiting state officials from making unwarranted demands for, or disclosures of, personal information about nonprofit members, supporters, and volunteers.

In an era of polarization, the PPPA has enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support. That proved true once again in Nebraska, where L.B. 43 was co-sponsored by Republican Senator Rita Sanders and Democratic Senator Danielle Conrad. Initially introduced as L.B. 297, the PPPA language was inserted into L.B. 43 early in the 2024 session. That bill received a 39-0 vote in Nebraska’s Unicameral Legislature on Final Reading. State lawmakers and nonprofits understand that, even when they disagree on many issues, the right to privacy and free speech must be protected for all.

In addition to People United for Privacy, the PPPA was championed by the ACLU of Nebraska, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Nebraska Family Alliance. Americans for Prosperity, Nebraska Cattlemen, Platte Institute, and the University of Nebraska System voiced strong support for the bill as well. As the ACLU of Nebraska explained, the PPPA “is an important bill that protects and advances First Amendment rights. The First Amendment includes not just the individual right to speak and petition the government, but it also includes the right to associate for expressive purposes. And included in this right of collective expression is the right to associational privacy.”

Alliance Defending Freedom elaborated on the privacy interests at stake: “An additional layer of protection for the freedom of association in Nebraska law will encourage more civic involvement and participation from people of all walks of life, especially those that have different politics, different ideologies, or maybe even no ideology at all… Expressly protecting a constitutional right in state code that supports the robust exercise of First Amendment rights is a win for all Nebraskans.”

The PPPA brings Nebraska law into line with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling in Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) v. Bonta. That case challenged the California Attorney General’s authority to compel nonprofits to turn over their members and supporters’ personal information to state officials. The Court ruled 6-3 that the California AG’s actions violated the First Amendment. The decision reinforced longstanding Supreme Court precedent that Americans have a constitutional right to privately support and donate to nonprofit causes.

The Court’s ruling in AFPF was encouraged by the nonprofit community, including organizations on opposite ends of hot-button issues. Nearly 300 groups representing a range of ideological perspectives filed amicus briefs opposing California’s dragnet of nonprofit donor rolls. Following the ruling, a broad-based coalition of nonprofits has worked to encourage states to review their laws and enact proactive privacy protections like the PPPA.

Nebraska is the first state to adopt the PPPA in the 2024 legislative session. Three states – Kentucky, Indiana, and Alabama – passed the law in 2023. Nebraska nearly became the fourth such state last year, but a historic, session-long filibuster on an unrelated issue disrupted the bill’s momentum. Fortunately, legislators picked up where they left off and made L.B. 43 a priority in the 2024 session.

As a result, nonprofits serving the nearly 2 million residents of Nebraska are now secure in their ability to keep their members and supporters’ personal information safe. Congratulations and appreciation are due to Governor Pillen, Senator Sanders, Senator Conrad, and all of the lawmakers and nonprofits who did their part to protect privacy and free speech in the Cornhusker State.