Our Opinion: Tinkering with voter-approved term limits
Friday, February 10, 2012
Is 20 years sufficient time to revisit a voter-approved constitutional amendment on legislative term limits?
What about 10 years?
Missouri lawmakers are taking time this session to tinker with term limits, with their goal being greater flexibility.
The magic number for serving in the Legislature is 16 years.
A proposed constitutional amendment now under consideration would permit lawmakers to serve the maximum 16 years in either the House or Senate.
The existing provision, enacted by voters in 1992, specifically limits service to eight years in the House and eight years in the Senate.
Measured by terms, House members may serve four two-year terms and senators may serve two four-year terms.
In 2002, voters amended a provision relating to partial service. Lawmakers filling an unexpired term after its midpoint remain eligible to serve an additional eight years in either chamber.
The proposal now being discussed retains a limit of 16 year total legislative service, but removes the individual limits for the House and Senate.
We understand why this proposal appeals to lawmakers; it provides greater flexibility and lends itself to greater seniority.
What we have difficulty understanding is why lawmakers feel compelled to augment, alter or refine voter-approved requirements.
Bear in mind, we traditionally have not championed term limits. We believe they narrow, rather than enhance, voters’ choices.
In addition, we concede the proposal would require voter approval in addition to legislative approval. In that regard, term limits in the Constitution — which must be changed by voters — differ from the Proposition B animal welfare regulations in statute, which may be altered by legislation.
The critical question, however, is does this proposed change help Missourians?
Did voters err when they approved the eight-and-eight term limits?
Do changes in the political and/or government landscape in the past two decades call for revisiting the issue?
Or does lawmakers’ experience with the current limits prompt them to believe the change has merit?
Voters deserve to hear the reasoning from supporters of this proposal.
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