National Conference of State Legislatures Report: Term Limits Cause Inexperience, Loss of Power

Article excerpt

Term limits have brought legislatures inexperienced lawmakers and a loss of power to the executive branch, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

An Oklahoma House leader takes issue with many of the findings. Another details problems with the changeover wrought at least in part by term limits in the House. Both are term-limited themselves and running for higher office.

With the 2004 elections, the political majority in the Oklahoma House turned over to Republican for the first time in more than 80 years.

Oklahoma, California and Colorado first adopted term limits in 1990. The first lawmakers termed out in Oklahoma occurred in 2004. Although 21 states initially adopted term-limit laws, they have been repealed or held unconstitutional in some states, leaving such laws in force in 15 states.

In Oklahoma, lawmakers may serve a combined lifetime total of 12 years in the House and Senate.

In 2004, 41 Oklahoma House and Senate members were term-limited. This year, the number is 22.

Oklahoma's state House has 101 members, the Senate 48.

Coping with Term Limits, a Practical Guide was unveiled during the NCSL annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn.

Karl Kurtz, director of state services at NCSL, said term limits have hampered the effectiveness of the legislative branch, particularly in the budget-making process.

"By inhibiting the experience levels of members, their leaders and committee chairs, term-limited legislatures have lost a key element of organizational capacity," said Kurtz. "Instead of leveling the playing field between the legislative and executive branches, term limits have weakened the legislative branch in relation to executive power."

Gov. Brad Henry's office had little comment on this contention of the report.

"Because legislative term limits are still relatively new in Oklahoma, it is probably too early to tell what long-term impact those limits will have on the state budget process," said Henry spokesman Paul Sund. "Certainly, Governor Henry has played a very active and influential role in the state budget process during his four years in office, and he will continue to do so, regardless of the membership of the Legislature."

Robin Maxey, Senate leadership spokesman, said the Senate has worked more closely with Democrat Henry than with his Republican predecessor, Frank Keating. Maxey noted that it takes the House, Senate and the governor to accomplish things in the governing process.

Jennie Bowser, with the Leadership Management Program at NCSL, said some legislatures have tried to address the inexperience issue by improving orientation and training for new members and providing for ongoing educational efforts. She said others have instituted informal meetings with legislative leaders and mentoring programs pairing new members with veterans.

The report found that legislative leaders and committee chairs have less experience when they assume their positions than their non- termed counterparts in other states and serve for shorter periods of time.

Before term limits, researchers determined, it was common for lawmakers to serve a decade or more before taking on a leadership role. Now, they said, some members start campaigning for leadership posts as freshmen.

No legislative leader in a term-limit state has served more than four years, with most limited to two years, the study found.

The researchers saw little change in the election of women or minorities in term-limit states, except in the few states that have seen a significant rise in their overall Latino population. …

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