Students push for lower lawmaker age limit

Monday, February 11, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- He's old enough to vote for a president, drink a beer and fight a war, but not to serve in the Legislature. So John Franklin, 22, is working with other student lobbyists to lower the minimum age for election to the Missouri House and Senate.

The Missouri Constitution sets the minimum ages at 24 for the House and 30 for the Senate. Franklin wants it set at 21 for both chambers.

Some current legislators say it might be a good idea, given that term limits are about to force nearly half of all incumbents from office.

Rep. Tom Villa, a 56-year-old Democrat from St. Louis, has sponsored a proposed constitutional amendment that would ask voters to make 21 the minimum age for election to the Legislature.

Other than knowing some procedural matters, Villa said being a legislator is about having good issues, not having reached a certain age.

"If you take someone and sit them in the Missouri House or Senate and they pay attention and have ability, they are going to serve their constituents fine," Villa said.

A perennial favorite

The legislation is a perennial favorite of the Associated Students of the University of Missouri, which also wants the state to lower the eligibility age for jury service among and provide more scholarship funds.

What's new this year is the matter of term limits, which will create more opportunities for Missourians to run for the Legislature as membership urns over.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to vote on the issue Tuesday, a major coup for the student lobbying group. Last year, the group's proposal never even received a committee hearing.

The students have been busy trying to win support. Franklin presented the committee a report showing just five other states with House age limits equal to or higher than Missouri's. On the Senate side, four states have similar or tougher restrictions.

Franklin said the fight is about equal representation. Young people should get a chance to work in the political system, he said.

"When the government doesn't represent the diverse characteristics of all the people, then it can't represent its diverse interests," said Franklin, a political science major at the University of Missouri at Kansas City who is interning as a student lobbyist for the semester.

"Even though the characteristics that separate us from the people who do represent us won't separate us forever, individuals at the age of 25 and 30 have different interests," he said.

No one seems certain why the authors of the Missouri Constitution included age requirements.

Early American history expert Jeff Pasley said it was common in the early 19th century for young people to serve in Congress and in other state legislatures. Often, prominent family members easily won office, said Pasley, an assistant professor at the University of Missouri at Columbia. Plus, people lived shorter lives.

"This was before birth certificates, so really what age somebody was, was what they swore it was," Pasley said.

Political science professor Candace Young said the state constitution's authors probably wanted lawmakers to have some life experience before serving in the Capitol.

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