Proposed amendment would alter term limits

Wednesday, February 13, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Though too late to prevent this year's forced mass exodus from the Missouri General Assembly, one impending term-limits victim is taking a swing at weakening the existing law.

State Sen. John Schneider, D-Florissant, is sponsoring a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would extend term limits to 12 consecutive years in each legislative chamber.

Voters overwhelmingly added lifetime term limits of eight years per chamber to the Constitution in 1992. Because terms won that year or before didn't count against the cap, limits will have their greatest impact for this year's elections.

As of Tuesday, 73 representatives and 12 senators will be forced out at the end of the year. Those numbers are subject to change as legislative short-timers resign early to pursue other interests.

Schneider had a similar proposal last year that cleared the Senate but made no progress in the House of Representatives. If it survives the Legislature this time, voters would have the final say in November.

Public opinion of term limits -- both in Missouri and nationwide -- have changed greatly since 1992, said Schneider, who is in his 32nd year in the Senate.

'Out of steam, thank God'

Of the 19 states that enacted term limits -- all since 1990 -- only Nebraska, whose voters endorsed limits in 2000, has done so since 1996. Two of those 19 states no longer have term limits. Idaho repealed its measure Feb. 1 and Oregon's was nullified by a court last month.

"This thing has run out of steam, thank God," Schneider said.

With a campaign to educate the electorate on the negative impact of term limits and the advantages of having experienced lawmakers, Schneider predicted voters would reverse their 1992 stance.

In addition to allowing lawmakers to serve 12 years at a stretch per chamber, Schneider's proposal would also lift the lifetime service ban. In theory, someone could serve 24 straight years, sit out two years and come back for another 24.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard the measure Tuesday. No opponents testified.

The committee considered another term-limits proposal sponsored by state Sen. Sidney Johnson, D-Agency. That measure would exclude partial terms won to fill a vacancy from counting toward the limit. Currently, someone elected to a partial term is forced out before reaching the eight-year limit.

Johnson's proposal would also require voter approval.

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