Heineman against term limits measure

2012-02-29T17:00:00Z 2012-03-05T16:50:20Z Heineman against term limits measureBy KEVIN O'HANLON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
February 29, 2012 5:00 pm  • 

Gov. Dave Heineman said Wednesday he is against a proposed constitutional amendment (LR358CA) that would ask voters whether to extend term limits for state senators from two to three.

"We ought to listen to the people of Nebraska; they voted for term limits," he said during a telephone news conference. "I support term limits. They supported two terms. The governor has a two-term limit. The Legislature has a two-term limit. I think that's great. I think that works well."

Heineman himself will serve 2 1/2 terms, counting the half-term he served after ascending to the governor's office when now-Sen. Mike Johanns left to be U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.

The proposal, by Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, advanced from first-round debate on a 30-12 vote. It faces two more rounds of consideration.

Heineman also was less than enthusiastic about a proposal to raise the pay of state lawmakers, using the subject to tout his proposal to cut income taxes. Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh has introduced a resolution (LR373CA) that would allow Nebraska voters to decide whether to amend the state Constitution to raise senators' pay to $32,000 a year -- a 167 percent increase.

"If they want a pay raise, they ought to provide tax relief to hard-working middle class Nebraska families," Heineman said. 

Senators' pay is set in the Nebraska Constitution and only can be changed by a statewide election. The current salary of $12,000 was set in 1988.

The pay-raise measure has yet to be debated.

Nebraska voters enacted term limits in 2000, and they went into effect in 2006. Now, senators can serve two consecutive four-year terms. They can run again after sitting out a term.

Supporters say term limits eliminate the "good ol' boy" system that they say is rife with back-room deals and open to corruption. Opponents say term limits will increasingly allow legislative rookies to be outmaneuvered by lobbyists and bureaucrats with more experience.

Carlson said most senators use a good chunk of their first term learning the ropes, including the intricacies of the legislative process and rules, how to present and carry a bill and how to juggle serving on multiple committees.

But when lawmakers are forced out after two terms, Carlson said, the Legislature loses experience and expertise.

Nebraska is one of 15 states that limit the terms of state lawmakers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

During the peak of the term limits movement in the 1990s, 21 states moved to restrict lawmakers' tenure. But courts in Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming threw out term limits, and lawmakers in Idaho and Utah repealed them. 

Reach Kevin O'Hanlon at 402-473-2682 or kohanlon@journalstar.com.

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