NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Term Limits Take Hold In States

February 14, 2000

For better or worse, term limits are gradually taking hold in 19 state legislatures across the country. Once quite popular with voters -- winning approval by margins above 70 percent in some states -- limits to the number of terms politicians can serve in legislatures have lost some of their appeal. Political analysts question the loss of experience they impose on lawmaking bodies.

  • Six states have instituted term limits since 1996, five are instituting limits this year and another seven are to have them in effect by 2007.
  • States with limits have initially been seeing one-third or more of their incumbents forced to depart.
  • The limits mean that freshmen legislators who aspire to become speaker must make their moves by the end of their first term, says the speaker of Ohio's House.
  • Bills to repeal or liberalize the limits were introduced last year in seven of the 18 states with limits -- but none has passed so far.

Critics charge that they are changing the nature of politics for the worse. "Now the institutional memory will be in the hands of lobbyists and the legislative staff," complains Ohio House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson (R), "when it should rest with the elected policy makers."

Richard Vedder, a political analyst at Ohio University, says that people "have underestimated the political impact this is going to have as newcomers try to move through uncharted territory."

Sensing the accelerated political pace, lobbyists are reportedly getting more involved in the grass-roots nominating process, hoping to build relationships sooner with promising candidates.

Source: Francis X. Clines, "Term Limits Bring Wholesale Change into Legislatures," New York Times, February 14, 2000.


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