By GRANT SCHULTE
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A measure that would let voters decide whether Nebraska lawmakers should serve an extra four years in office under term limits won initial approval Monday.
Senators advanced the proposed ballot measure for the 2016 general election with a 27-12 vote, despite uncertainty over key details. It must be approved twice more before it can appear on the ballot.
Under the proposal, lawmakers could serve up to three consecutive four-year terms in office, and supporters say it could be changed to allow a maximum of two six-year terms instead.
Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus said he introduced the measure to help preserve institutional knowledge in the one-house Legislature.
Schumacher pointed to senior staff members in the Legislature who have ``kept the institution on track’’ in recent years, but are nearing retirement age. Under a voter-approved constitutional amendment, lawmakers have been limited to two consecutive four-year terms since 2006.
“The longer you are here, the more realize what you don’t know and how valuable experience is,” Schumacher said.
The proposal wouldn’t apply to any current senators and would be phased in starting in 2020.
Schumacher said he supports term limits, but that new senators face a steep learning curve. He said he personally prefers allowing two six-year terms because it matches the time given to U.S. senators and the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.
Voters may resist the idea. A constitutional amendment that restricted lawmakers to two consecutive four-year terms won statewide approval in 2000. A 2012 ballot measure to let senators serve three four-year terms was rejected by a nearly two-to-one margin.
Advocates for term limits said they prevent lawmakers from becoming career politicians and guarantee a steady supply of fresh faces and new ideas. But even some supporters have said term limits give more power to experienced lobbyists and political parties.
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion argued last week that, if the measure passes, lawmakers should have to serve three four-year terms instead of two six-year terms. Kintner said shorter terms force senators to stand for election more often and keeps them more accountable to their constituents.
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 2012 after sitting out the minimum time required.
Terms limits ushered in 17 new state senators this year, accounting for more than one-third of the Legislature.