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
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repealed or held unconstitutional in some states, leaving such laws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
"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
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
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. …