Nebraska voters could decide whether state senators could serve one more consecutive term.
Voters would get the final say on LR 358CA, given first-round approval in the Unicameral on a 30-to-12 vote. If approved by the voters, the constitutional amendment would extend term limits to three, consecutive four-year terms. Voters in 2000 limited senators to two consecutive terms.
“There are many who believe that the motivation for term limits in Nebraska was the removal of former Sen. Ernie Chambers,” Sen. Brenda Council of Omaha told colleagues during floor debate, expressing a sentiment often heard at the Capitol; that term limits specifically targeted Chambers, a firebrand whose antics spread his fame far beyond Lincoln.
That may or may not be so.
Sen. Leroy Louden of Ellsworth, who served in the legislature previously, presented a different angle by painting a picture of the legislature prior to term limits. When asked what has changed by Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, Louden replied that the legislature had ground into gridlock prior to term limits; that little advancement was being made on issues and new ideas just didn’t surface.
“New ideas didn’t have much of a chance in the legislature when I first came down here,” Louden said. “It was pretty well geared to, as I say the old heads were running a lot of things. They had been there for years.”
Term limits ushered out those “old heads” and injected new enthusiasm and new ways of thinking into the legislature, according to Louden.
Few senators who spoke during debate argued against term limits. Yet, they argued against the stringent law now forcing senators to leave the legislature after two consecutive terms. Nebraska law does allow a senator to run again after sitting out a term.
Council failed in her attempt to throw out term limits altogether. Her amendment managed to attract only three votes, with 42 senators voting against an all-out repeal of term limits.
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, sponsor of LR 358CA, noted during floor debate that there was a steep learning curve for senators newly elected to the Unicameral. Carlson praised term limits for bringing new ideas to the chamber and preventing careers in the legislature. He added, though, that he believes Nebraska’s current law shifts the balance of power in state government to the executive branch and lobbyists. He said it causes the loss of experience and expertise in the legislature and is convinced the people of Nebraska would be better served by allowing senators to serve three consecutive terms.
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]
AUDIO: Final portion of legislative floor debate on LR 358CA [15 min.]