Fix mistake by passing Amendment 3

Thursday, October 10, 2002

At the 1992 general election, Missouri voters, like others across the nation in the grip of a fiercely anti-government mood, adopted a new constitutional amendment establishing term limits on members of the legislature. The main effect was to graft onto the constitution a maximum eight-year term that any person may serve, in a lifetime, in either the House or Senate.

But there was another, perhaps unintended -- and we think harmful -- effect: Owing to a quirk in the way the ballot measure was drafted, it has limited some lawmakers to even less than eight years in office.

This anomaly occurs upon the creation of a vacancy in office, either with the death or resignation of an officeholder. When a senator is elected to serve the balance of an unfinished term -- the final year, say, of a four-year term -- under the amendment as written, he or she may run only one more time, for a combined term of only five years in office.

Term limits are a reform whose efficacy is highly debatable, but nonetheless one this newspaper has supported. Even among term-limits supporters, however, some think eight years is too short a time, and that 12 years would be more reasonable. We know of no one who supports the current wrinkle in the law, which bars a person from even serving two full Senate terms.

Hence, Amendment 3. This proposed amendment would address this situation, by providing a limited exemption to the eight-year cap on service in a legislative chamber. The sole issue addressed by Amendment 3 is whether a partial term to fill a vacancy should count toward the eight-year cap, as it does now. We don't believe it should, and neither do the folks who successfully spearheaded the drive for term limits 10 years ago. This is a technical fix. Voters should adopt Amendment 3.

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