The writer is president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
For decades, Nebraskans have searched for ways to plug the state’s “brain drain” — that large-scale loss of our educated young people.
Today, the Cornhusker State faces another serious “drain” of human capital — the exodus of experienced leadership at the State Capitol.
Approved by voters in 2000, Nebraska’s current term limit law restricts the 49 state senators to two consecutive terms, or a total of eight years.
On the surface, the concept of term limits might make sense. It certainly provides the opportunity for fantastic populist rhetoric. But here in Nebraska, term limits have seriously hindered the legislative branch of our state government by forcing out accomplished leaders just as they have honed their skills and expertise to tackle the state’s toughest issues.
Supporters argue that term limits usher out career politicians who are more concerned with their own political gain than the interests of the people. But in Nebraska, term limits are tossing out volunteers who have sacrificed personally, financially and professionally to serve their state.
Moreover, term limits have actually concentrated power within our Legislature. Because serving in the unicameral body presents a daunting learning curve, only a select handful of state senators possess the experience and institutional knowledge needed to meaningfully impact the legislative process on a regular basis.
Perhaps most significantly, term limits have left many of Nebraska’s legislative districts — especially in rural areas — struggling to find willing, qualified individuals who want to serve in the Legislature and who can afford to subsist on an annual salary of $12,000.
>> In the past six years — with term limits in full effect — the 49-member one-house Legislature has seen 56 new lawmakers.
>> This year, the Legislature will lose its speaker and five of its most talented committee chairs.
>> Two years from now, in 2014, 19 more state senators will be forced out by term limits, guaranteeing that more than half of Nebraska’s lawmakers will have no more than two years of state lawmaking experience in 2015.
The reality is that many states have term limits. In fact, Nebraska is just one of 15 states to impose limits on lawmakers’ time of service. But Nebraska is the only state to have term limits and a one-house legislature.
This is why the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry — which has served as the voice of the state’s business community for a century — supports Proposed Amendment 3 on the Nov. 6 ballot. This measure would allow state senators, if re-elected by their constituents, to serve four more years (for a total of 12 consecutive years) in the Legislature.
By voting “yes” on Amendment 3, we can still ensure that individuals could not make a career of serving in the Legislature. At the same time, Nebraskans would be much better served with more experience in the unicameral Legislature, a more powerful legislative branch and more contested legislative races. (Under the current term limits law, many incumbents are not even being challenged after their first term because potential challengers simply decide to wait another four years.)
Since our state’s founding, Nebraskans have always believed a job should go to the most qualified person. The current term limits law contradicts this fundamental value and severely hinders our state’s ability to address urgent challenges.
Nebraska’s economy, business climate and education system are at a crossroads. We need to ensure that the most capable, most qualified and most knowledgeable individuals are able to serve in the Legislature.
To stop Nebraska’s leadership drain at the State Capitol, vote for Proposed Amendment 3 and let our most qualified public servants continue to serve the best interests of Nebraska.