Legislative leaders: Term limits increase pressure

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — More than 15 years after Missouri voters limited state lawmakers to a maximum of eight consecutive years in each the House and Senate, questions remain about whether it has helped or hindered the Legislature’s work.

A proposed constitutional amendment to increase the limits to 16 years passed the Senate during the last legislative session, but it wasn’t debated in the House.

House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville, and Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, said term limits pressure them to perform, particularly if they want to seek another office, The Columbia Tribune reported Monday.

“I certainly think it is a very accelerated learning curve on how to be speaker,” said Tilley, who is a candidate for lieutenant governor. “I think what is good about it is that there is a sense of urgency.”

Mayer, who has a committee to raise money for an unspecified statewide office, said term limits give new lawmakers “the urge to get started and get things done. You are somewhat impatient. Term limits in a lot of ways has been good. It brings in new people, new ideas, new ways of thinking.”

But even some term-limit supporters acknowledge that they have meant a loss of long-term memory and technical knowledge of state government.

Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, served eight years in the House, sat out two years and then moved to the Senate, which he will leave after next year’s session.

“I get a lot of people come up and say, ‘Why did we pass this?’ and the law could only be 5 years old,” Green said. “We are repealing things as quick as we are passing them without any true debate. The old Senate would get up and filibuster and hold things up, and say, ‘Let’s slow down.’ “

Lawmakers interested in pursuing higher offices often decide which bills are priorities and which are shelved, he said, adding that political contributions dominate the agenda because bills backed by the largest supporters get priority.

When Green proposed the latest constitutional amendment, Phil Blumel, president of USA Term Limits, came to Missouri to join Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder in a news conference during the final week of the session to oppose the change.

“Special interests always oppose term limits laws,” Blumel said, because term limits hurt lobbyists’ attempts to “establish long-term cozy relations with lawmakers.”

Kinder, who has been an officeholder since 1993, said new ideas from new lawmakers are more important than institutional memory.

“You can make an objective case for either” term limits or no term limits, Kinder said. “But I think the people have spoken.”

Of the 12 senators in their final term, 11 have active committees to raise money for a statewide office. Of the 26 House members who must leave in 2012, 10 are openly seeking Senate seats and two are after statewide office.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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