Term Limit Effects Appear
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Term Limit Effects Appear

Date: May 19, 2007
By: Sarah D. Wire
State Capitol Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The Senate has always prided itself on being the chamber where discussion and compromise are encouraged, but recent actions and accusations made by both parties may have led to a deterioration of these ideals.

Senators on both sides of the aisle said some of the partisan behavior could be attributed to term limits.

"A lot of the animosity we‚019re seeing here is Senators don‚019t have time to build relationships," said Senate Democratic Leader Maida Coleman, D-St. Louis. "People come over from the House of Representatives where there was always upheaval and they‚019re clueless as to what made the Senate special."

Fifteen years have gone by since voters passed a constitutional amendment limiting the amount of time politicians could serve in the state legislature. As time has progressed and almost no legislator remains from the ‚018old‚019 House and Senate.

Missouri‚019s term limits were approved in 1992 by a 75 percent margin. The constitutional amendment allows legislators to serve eight years in the House of Representatives and eight years in the Senate.

The state‚019s passage of the limits came during a nation wide push when 21 states approved some variation of the time restrictions. Several Missouri Senators attributed the drop in Senate decorum and the increasing power of special interest groups and lobbyists to term limits.

In the past, new Senators were able to spend their first few years in office learning how the legislative process worked. But with an eight-year limit there is " no more luxury of sitting back and leaning the process," Coleman said.

"People are coming in with a mission to make their party look good without legislative know how and they‚019re susceptible to making big mistakes," she said. With such a short amount of time Senators don‚019t have a chance to "grow on one another," Coleman said.

"It has changed the culture a lot, it‚019s more contentious than it used to be," said Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County. "There is less interest in working together."

The effects of term limits did not become apparent until 2002, when the first round of Senators was term limited out. The turnover resulted in 12 new Senators, a 35 percent change in the chamber.

In 2008, five current Senators will be ineligible to run for reelection. "Before term limits new Senators could sit and soak in the process, I don‚019t have time to sit back, I promised by constituents I‚019d hit the ground running," said Sen. Jolie Justus, D-Kansas City. Justus recently completed her first session.

According to a 2005 study released by the Truman School of Public Policy at the University of Missouri-Columbia, the average legislative experience of a Missouri Senator was only 3.4 years. When term limits were first passed, proponents claimed limiting legislative careers would remove legislators who had been in office for too long and would provide more diversity in the legislature.

Sen. Matt Bartle, R- Jackson County, said this was one good result of the limits and said legislators are more careful about what they do after hours and about what legislation they pass because they could be removed more easily by their constituents.

The Truman School of Public Policy study states however, "term limits have almost no effect on competition faced by incumbents in either party." The study also states there is increased competition for legislative seats when there is no incumbent running.

Sen. Victor Callahan, D-Independence, said term limits have a negative effect because it has made the Senate by nature more partisan.

Coleman said this could be attributed to the rush Senators feel to pass legislation that is important to them and to their districts before they leave.

Loudon was recently criticized for inserting midwifery language into a large bill and not alerting other legislators before it was passed and sent to the governor. Loudon has been a strong proponent of midwifery for many years and will be term limited out at the end of the next session.

The senator denied that he inserted the language because he is so close to being forced to leave and said "when you‚019re facing a special interest group you get around it when you can." In response to Loudon‚019s actions, Senators spent hours accusing Loudon of being untrustworthy, a move some Senators felt would not have happened before term limits.

Bartle said under the ‚018old‚019 Senate problems had to be resolved quickly because "you might be working with that person for the next 30 years." Sen. Gary Nodler, R-Joplin said many Senate members viewed the actions as trickery.

Callahan agreed and said, "there's so little trust in here." Much of the legislative process does not occur on the Senate floor but in behind the scene negotiations where both parties try to streamline legislation before it hits the Senate floor.

Justus said because of term limits that‚019s not happening anymore. Justus said in her one session in the Senate she found it very difficult to reach compromises as a member of the minority Democrat party. She said because Democrats were not always involved in negotiations, the only resource she felt she was left with was to talk.

Justus participated in a Democrat led filibuster in March on the proposed MOHELA sale. In response, Republican leaders forced a vote on the issue and withdrew money for a construction project on the UMKC campus, which is in Justus‚019 district.

The parliamentary procedure used to force the vote has only been used a handful of times in the last few decades, including on five issues since term limits took effect. In the 2007 legislative session the procedure was used on an unprecedented three issues, including two on the last day of the session.

"It‚019s a tool that‚019s existed in the rules for decades," President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons, R-St. Louis County, said. "What is free and fair about a handful of people holding back the will of Missouri‚019s citizens?" Gibbons said some conflict is necessary to the legislative process. "I‚019m not interested in tyranny of the majority or tyranny of the minority," Gibbons said.

Nevertheless, Gibbons acknowledged that the loss of legislators who have worked together for decades had hurt the Senate. "When you have people who served together for 30, 40 years...that certainly would  create a different environment.  Today the turnover happens pretty quickly." 

Some Senators have become distressed by the power gained by special interest groups and lobbyists since the passage of term limits, Sen. Tim Green, D- St. Louis County, said. "Political contributions and special interest groups have become the avenue of reason, not public policy," he said.

"Special interest dictates what goes on in this body."

Loudon agreed and said skilled legislators could stand up to lobbyists and know who was honest but with the small amount of legislative experience currently held by most Senators, lobbyists are being used to gain legislative knowledge.

Gibbons said despite the concerns raised by legislators there is no plan to repeal them. Only two of the 21 states that have term limits have repealed them. "I think it‚019s the times, things are different now," Gibbons said.