Capitol: Term limits could go to voters

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February 23rd, 2012

Lincoln, NE – Voters could be asked this November about allowing state senators to serve an extra term, under a proposal advancing in the Legislature.

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Nebraska voters approved term limits four times before they finally withstood court challenge in 2000. That’s when they approved limiting state senators to two consecutive four-year terms. Now, Senator Tom Carlson of Holdrege wants to ask voters to extend that to three terms. He says it takes time for senators to learn the ropes, and they could be more effective for their constituents if allowed to serve longer.

Sen. Lathrop says term limits should be extended because senators could lose a certain amount of expertise. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop supports the idea. Lathrop says senators no longer have time to serve on different committees, so they don’t have the expertise to raise questions on specialized but important areas like the budget. He pointed to the effect in one recent year. “We moved the entire budget in less time than it took to debate roadside trapping.

Others, like Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, said term limits have had mixed effects. “I don’t have a problem with term limits, whether it should be two terms or three terms or whatever you have. But it does change the face of the Legislature and you do have new faces and new ideas come through a lot quicker than it used to be,” Louden said.

Carlson said he’s not trying to do away with term limits, but merely wants to lengthen them. But Omaha Sen. Brenda Council proposed an amendment to remove any limits. Council has said a prime reason why Nebraska adopted term limits was to get rid of her predecessor, longtime Sen. Ernie Chambers, currently running against her to regain his old post.

Sen. Brenda Council says term limits were primarily introduced to get rid of her predecessor, Ernie Chambers. (Photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Council said decisions on who to represent them should be left up to voters in individual districts. “The voters could vote us out after one term. There’s nothing absolutely that prevents them from voting us out after one term. Just as they could vote us out after two terms, three terms, four terms, ten terms,” she said.

Senators voted 42-3 against Council’s proposal to do away with any limits. And some, like Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte, argued against making any changes to the term limits approved by voters. “I think we need to listen to the will of the people. I think we need to listen to our constituents. Even though the third term might be a great idea, the term limits came from the citizens, it came from (a) petition,” Hansen said.

But Carlson said the citizens were where any decision to change would come from, as well. “I believe that our voters understand and can make the right decision. Please let’s give our voters an opportunity to weigh in and make a choice that they did not have in the year 2000,” he said.

That’s when the choice was between a two-term limit or none. Senators voted 30-12 to give the measure first round approval.

An hour later, U.S. Term Limits, the Washington DC organization that spurred the 2000 petition drive, was condemning Carlson as caring more about his political career than the voters who elected him. Carlson would be term limited out in 2015 unless the amendment passes. He said he didn’t care about the charge of self-interest, adding that if voters think it’s a good idea, they’ll vote for it, and if not, they won’t.

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