UPDATED: Legislators, Lobbyists Push to Remove Term Limits

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A Republican lawmaker wants to put a constitutional amendment before Montana voters that would remove term limits for state legislators.

Kristin Hansen of Havre told the House State Administration Committee Monday that constituents from both parties urged her to back the proposed repeal, saying term limits have resulted in a weaker Legislature.

Term-limit supporters testified that they didn’t want to see a Legislature of ordinary citizens replaced by one made up of career politicians.

“New people may bring new ideas, think outside the box and have a fresh set of eyes,” said Cindy Swank of Helena.

Voters in 1992 approved the constitutional amendment that limits state representatives and senators to eight years in one chamber over a 16-year period. Legislators can run for office in the other chamber once they reach that limit in their own chamber.

Hansen said she believes the 1992 amendment was the result of voters’ misdirected backlash against federally elected officials. State lawmakers are only part-time legislators, and term limits give them a limited amount of time to push their agendas, she said.

It should be up to the voters in each district to decide when their legislators need to be replaced, she said.

“We would do well to consider giving our legislators back some of their authority to represent the people who want to be represented,” she told the committee.

Hansen’s House Bill 404 calls for a constitutional amendment that would have to be approved by two-thirds of voters in a referendum.

Under the proposal, term limits would remain for statewide-elected officials, such as the governor and lieutenant governor.

Another bill considered by the committee by Republican Rep. Champ Edmunds of Missoula would extend term limits to 12 years over a 24-year period, and require legislators to wait two years after reaching that limit before they can be elected to the other chamber. Edmunds said he favors Hansen’s bill over his own HB 418, but he believes a repeal may be more difficult to pass.

The committee didn’t take immediate action on the bills.

Several lobbyists testified for repealing term limits. Gladys Hardin of the League of Women Voters said term limits means high turnover and less experience, which affects the Legislature’s leadership and makes the job of lobbyists and legislative staffers more difficult.

“The Legislature is a weaker institution because of term limits,” Hardin said.

Supporters of term limits noted that mostly legislators and lobbyists spoke Monday in favor of rolling back the voter-approved amendment.

“It makes me wonder what is so broken with term limits that legislators are trying so hard and pushing so hard to get them changed?” Swank said.

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