We don’t pay our state senators enough. The battle to get them their current $12,000 per year was a long one, and subsequent attempts to increase that have failed. It takes a voter-approved constitutional amendment to change that. Just so you know, the average pay nationally for state senators is $35,000. Nebraska’s median household income is $56,927.
We don’t let our state senators serve long enough. Nebraska is one of 15 states that impose term limits. Voters approved that in 2000 with an effective date of 2006, restricting lawmakers to two consecutive four-year terms. Critics say it takes new senators too long to get the hang of things and affects their time for crafting good policy. Proponents say it prevents a “gold old boy” system. Two attempts to change the length of terms have failed.
Now, a national organization recommends that Nebraska take steps to prohibit senators or other state officials from becoming lobbyists after leaving office. Nebraska is among seven states with no restrictions on former lawmakers, governors or other elected officials working to influence their former colleagues, according to the analysis by Public Citizen, a consumer-rights advocacy group.
The report notes that on most days a dozen or so senators-turned-lobbyists gather outside the George W. Norris Legislative Chamber to talk with lawmakers about bills that could help or hurt their clients. Public Citizen’s report was music to the ears of Common Cause Nebraska Chairman Jack Gould. He contends these folks were elected to serve the public, not private interests. His group has fought for years to impose so-called revolving door restrictions.
Gould said allowing them to immediately leave office and sell their experience and connections to the highest bidder is not in the public interest. There are 20 former elected officials who have registered as lobbyists with the Nebraska Legislature since 2000. Half of them started within the last five years, according to Common Cause Nebraska’s annual lobbying report released last month. Of those who were listed, 14 registered within a year of leaving public office.
Nebraska lawmakers typically have rejected restrictions, arguing that former lawmakers and state employees should be allowed to take their skills into private-sector jobs. Washington, D.C. – based Public Citizen maintains that public officials could be swayed by the possibility of a lucrative job from an industry that wants special treatment from the government.
“If you allow public officials to immediately leave office and work as a lobbyist, it raises the potential for corruption,” said Craig Holman, Public Citizen’s government affairs lobbyist. “You have lawmakers who are looking at their own bottom line.”
Hmmm … what if we paid them more to serve as senators, or allowed them to serve longer terms?
Public Citizen praised three states — Iowa, North Dakota and Maryland — for enacting polices that make it more difficult for public officials to cash in on their government service by becoming lobbyists. All three states have enacted cooling-off periods and prohibit any lobbying activity during that time. In addition to Nebraska, there are no restrictions in Idaho, Illinois, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oklahoma and Wyoming.
Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer said he doesn’t see a pressing need to change the current system.