LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers moved a step closer Monday to asking their bosses for a pay raise.
By a vote of 28-9, senators advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would increase legislative salaries.
If approved by voters, Legislative Resolution 373CA would boost their pay to $22,500 per year, up from the current $12,000.
Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood of Norfolk said the higher pay would make it easier for Nebraskans to serve in the Legislature while preserving the body's citizen nature.
“(Getting) $22,500 doesn't make someone a career politician,” he said.
Flood urged colleagues to think of future lawmakers and of the people in their communities who would make good legislators.
The current pay rate discourages most middle-class people from even attempting to run, said State Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial.
He said the Legislature requires sacrifices. He lost his business because of the time required for the Legislature.
“We get good people at $12,000, but do we get the representation we deserve?” he asked. “It's really sad we're going to turn the state of Nebraska over to the rich and the retired.”
But Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins argued against the increase, saying that senators knew the pay when they took the job. He questioned whether a raise would make much difference in people's willingness to serve.
If the measure survives the next two rounds of voting, it would go before voters in November.
Voters passed the last legislative pay increase — from $4,800 to the current $12,000 — in 1988.
Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, who introduced the proposal, said the $22,500 figure would be close to the rate of inflation in the 24 years since.
Acknowledging that legislative pay increases generate controversy, he urged colleagues to stand up and explain why a change is needed.
“There is never going to be a good time for this,” he said.
Lawmakers would not get health benefits or cost-of-living adjustments under the proposal.
They would, however, continue getting reimbursed for some expenses.
Senators who live more than 50 miles from the Capitol get $123 per day during the legislative session for lodging and incidental expenses. Those living within 50 miles are paid $46 per day.
Lawmakers also are reimbursed 55.5 cents per mile for mileage, though those living more than 50 miles away can claim only one round trip a week.
Sen. Tom Hansen of North Platte warned that putting the salary proposal on the ballot at the same time as a proposal easing term limits could sink both. The second proposal would allow senators to serve three four-year terms in office instead of the current two.
Senators might attempt to put the term limits measure on the primary ballot.
Among other bills advanced Monday:
Film incentives: Cities could use economic development funds to attract film projects under LB 863, introduced by Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln. An amendment to the bill requires that projects using such incentives list Nebraska and the city providing the funds in the credits.
Coash said the bill already has generated interest from filmmakers. Nebraska is one of 10 states that offer no incentives for shooting movies, television shows and commercials.
Entertainment districts: Cities could create “entertainment districts” where alcohol could be consumed in a commons area, much like Kansas City's Power and Light District, under LB 1130. Coash said developers in Lincoln, Omaha and La Vista are exploring the idea. Similar to a giant beer garden, such districts have controlled entry areas and are closed off to motor vehicles.
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