By Johnny Kampis | Missouri Watchdog
ST. LOUIS – A move to allow Missouri lawmakers to serve the 16 maximum years at the Capitol in one chamber may have bipartisan support, but it will be up to voters to make the change.
Missouri’s term limits law now prevents a legislator from serving more than eight years in either the House or Senate, but two proposed constitutional amendments aim to change that.
A House Republican and Democratic senator both spoke about their proposals before the Senate Rules Committee this week, arguing that lawmakers can be more effective if they could spend the maximum time in the Missouri General Assembly in one chamber or the other.
“Right now, the institutional knowledge lies with most of the lobbyists,” said Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis.
Rep. Myron Neth, R-Liberty, said it takes time for legislators to become experts in such areas as the state budget, and have to start anew if they move from the House to the Senate or vice versa. Neth said he supported implementing term limits, but believes the original idea can be improved upon with this amendment.
“Right now, once we get that knowledge, we cannot use that knowledge to effectively govern,” Neth said.
His measure has already made it through the house, by a 123 to 31 vote, and if the Senate concurs voters would consider the amendment in the general election in November 2014.
Missouri residents implemented term limits in 1992, but St. Louis County Municipal League lobbyist Shanon Hawk pointed out at the hearing that voters were able to choose between “term limits or no term limits. They didn’t have this option.”
David Valentine, author of a 2011 report on the impact of term limits for the Missouri Legislative Academy Institute of Public Policy, concluded that term limits have hurt the level of knowledge in the legislature, not reduced lobbyist influence and created a new, non-legislative career orientation among lawmakers.
Many legislators seek jobs as lobbyists after their terms end, prompting a proposal for a “cooling-off period” in an ethics reform bill that would make representatives and senators wait at least two years before accepting such employment.
“Term limits achieved none of the sponsors’ principal objectives and has significant negative consequences that were not anticipated by either supporters or opponents,” Valentine wrote.
Patrick Ishmael, policy analyst for St. Louis-based free market think tank Show-Me Institute, thinks lawmakers have a good idea. He told Missouri Watchdog that the present term limit system causes institutional knowledge to be lost quickly, allowing special interests in the Capitol to usher new legislators through the lawmaking process.
“That can be very bad news for taxpayers,” Ishmael said.
Not everyone agrees with the plan. Melanie Abrajano, a spokeswoman for Club for Growth, noted that voters approved those term limits overwhelmingly in 1992. Her Washington, D.C. based group supports smaller government.
“The people have spoken pretty clearly, and their will should be respected,” she said.
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