Amending the Constitution is wisely approached with trepidation. Our Constition is as close to a sacred document as we have in government. Neverthless, four proposed state Constitutional amendments appear this year on the ballot.
We urge you to vote yes on one of them and give a resounding no to another one. There are some thoughts below on the other two -- proposed amendments 1 & 2.
On amendment 4, it’s time to give state senators a raise.
I know, it is difficult to give credit to lawmakers, let alone a raise, in these tough economic times when public policey is often a muddled mess, but consider the responsibilitires we hand to lawmakers versus the amount we pay them.
The proposed amendment would increase the pay of a state senator from $12,000 to $22,500 a year. The increased salary would still be a poverty-level amount by most measures, but it’s not all that bad -- senators also get a paid two-person staff, plus an office and mileage reimbusement.
Critics note that state senators only work 90 days one year and 60 days the next year. But those 90 days start in January and often drag through mid-May (nearly half the year) in the “long session” and at least into early April in the “short session.”
And, senators consider in the neighborhood of 600 bills each year, meaning extra hours hitting the books, weighing the consequences and meeting with constituents.
They not only grapple with hundreds of laws, their decisions involve millions of dollars and affect thousands of lives, and we pay them a pittance for their work.
Low pay has greatly limited the pool of Nebraskans who can afford to serve -- the Legislature is mostly comprised of wealthy, independent business owners and/or farmers and ranchers who can afford to be away from work, plus a few retired people.
Lawmaking is hard work and virtually a full-time job. A pay increase to $22,500 is a step in the right direction.
Two terms is enough
On the other hand, it is unwise to encourage anyone to make lawmaking a lifestyle. (amendment 3). Voters are right to insist on term limits, opening the job periodically to people with fresh ideas and new approaches to governance.
If we extend the current limit of two terms to three, it’s predictable that as those terms expire, senators will propose extending terms again, and again.
It might take some time for a new lawmaker to learn the official and unofficial rules of effective legislation, but it doesn’t take several years, as some suggest. The legislative staffs offer continuity, practical information and advice. Besides, people with the ability to be elected in wide-open races have the abilty to become good lawmakers in a relatively short period of time.
If not, the voters can be expected to get them out of there.
Amendment 1 makes crimes conducted during a campaign an impeachable offense. So, if a candidates commits fraud or steals money but still wins an election, they can be impeached from office afterwards, when their crimes come to light.
This actually happened in the campaign of David Hergert of Scottsbluff, who was elected a University of Nebraska Regent -- one of the governors of NU.
When confronted, Hergert admitted he accepted an illegal campaign loan and failing to report a late contribution and file two affidavits on time.
His impeachment trial was a long, drug-out proceeding.
The debate centered on whether an individual can be removed from office for committing offenses before being sworn in.
This amendment seems self-evident to me. If someone breaks the law, they shouldn't hold a public office.
The appearance of an amendment (2) to make hunting and fishing a constitutional right in Nebraska is an example of how nutty things are in government.
This amendment pushes back against environmental, animal rights advocates who don't seem to believe that mankind has dominion over animals, so people should not be out there hunting and fishing. Carried to an extreme, that position gives animals dominion over people.
Thus, the danger.
To those advocates I'd say, wait a minute. Don't we as a country still have a considerable ways to go to take care of our fellow men and women? If we provide people with education and opportunity, people will take care of animals.
The position of "no hunting and fishing" counters the practices of mankind since prehistoric days. And here in modern times, hunting and fishing is already highly regulated. Farmers, ranchers and other critics often say it is overly protected now, by an often-unaccountable bureaucracy that doesn't serve people well.
Use your conscience on this one. If animal rightists seem overzealous and dangerous to you, vote yes.