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Senate approves ballot measure to revise and extend term limits

April 25, 2000
By: Michael Patrick Carney
State Capital Bureau
Links: SS SJR 31

JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate, led by its longest serving member, decided Tuesday to scrap a voter-approved eight-year limit on legislative terms. If the House concurs, voters will be asked to impose a new limit of 12 consecutive years.

The vote was 21-12.

Leading the charge was Sen. John Schneider, a St. Louis County Democrat first elected to the Senate in 1970. He said current limits tip the balance of power in favor of other branches of government.

"When you weaken the legislature you weaken the ability of the public to have a check on government," Schneider said during Senate debate.

Sen. Doyle Childers, R-Reeds Spring, discounted such a doom-and-gloom scenario.

Legislators are not indispensable, said Childers, who has served in the legislature's upper house since 1996.

Childers argued that removing one's finger from a glass of water has the same effect as the still unimplemented eight year term limit -- short term ripples with a little displacement.

Many legislators filed last month for what, under current law, will be their last term in office.

Rather than just adding an additional four years to lawmakers term in office, Schneider acknowledged that the Senate-passed plan would restart the clock, giving everyone another 12 years. He promised to have that provision removed when the House considers his proposal.

The presiding officer of each chamber would also be subject to a maximum four years in that post.

Schneider will be "term-limited" after 20002 and cannot file for reelection under current limits. But under his proposal, as long as he wins reelection, Schneider could serve until 2014.

Sen. Jim Mathewson, a Sedalia Democrat first elected in 1980, voted for the measure because, he said, Missourians were swept up in a national movement.

"They sent a message -- and they're still there," Mathewson said of Congressional Republicans who advertised term limits as part of the 1994 "Contract with America."

Voters who approved the ballot measure didn't realize they were giving up their freedom to choose an elected official, Mathewson said.

Under this measure, the governor will not have the power to decide on which ballot to place the new limits. It must be considered during next April's municipal elections.