- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska voters may once again get to decide whether lawmakers can serve an extra four years in office under a proposal making its way through the Legislature.

Lawmakers began debating a ballot measure Wednesday that would allow future senators to serve up to 12 consecutive years.

Term limits went into effect in 2006 under a voter-approved constitutional amendment that limited lawmakers to two consecutive four-year terms. The new measure would allow future lawmakers to serve up serve either three consecutive four-year terms, or two back-to-back six-year terms.

Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus said he proposed the amendment because it takes time for lawmakers to build the experience needed to govern effectively. Schumacher said he supports term limits, but senators face a steep learning curve when they arrive at the Legislature.

“Like all good ideas, there is often a downside and tweaking that needs to be done to make them better,” Schumacher said. “The idea of limiting the Legislature to two four-year terms has had some consequences. The longer that you’re down here, the more obvious those consequences become.”

The proposal wouldn’t apply to any current senators and would be phased in through 2024, when all legislative candidates would be elected to six-year terms.

Voters may resist, though, after enacting term limits in 2000 and turning down three two-year terms in 2012. The 2012 proposal was the fourth time term limits have appeared on the ballot, but past efforts were struck down in court.

Advocates for term limits said they prevent lawmakers from becoming career politicians and guarantee a steady supply of fresh faces and new ideas.

Sen. Robert Hilkemann of Omaha said lawmakers should respect the will of voters.

“The people of Nebraska have spoken twice on this, and they said two four-year terms,” he said. “Do we not get it? It’s all right to discuss this, but I think our present system is just fine.”

But Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island said term limits prevent senators from falling into a “rut” of thinking about issues, but lawmakers often need a few years to learn what they need to know.

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion said serving three four-year terms is better than two six-year stints because it forces senators to stand for election more often and keeps them connected with constituents. “When you have to go knock on doors, when you have to talk with people, you find out what’s on their mind,” he said.

Some supporters backed term limits as a way to oust former Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers. Chambers, who served nearly 40 years, is well-known for his intimate knowledge of legislative rules and his ability to single-handedly block bills. Term limits forced him from office in January 2009, but he was re-elected in 2013 after sitting out the minimum time required.


The measure is LR7CA

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