Lawmakers Consider Referendum Revising Term Limits

As amended, House Bill 639 would allow lawmakers to serve 16 years in the Legislature in any 20-year period

By ALISON NOON, Associated Press

HELENA — Hours ahead of a referendum deadline, Montana representatives on Tuesday considered the latest of the 2015 Legislature’s proposals to revise term limits.

Members of the House State Administration Committee took no immediate action after hearing a bill to allow legislators to remain longer in one legislative chamber.

As amended, House Bill 639 would allow lawmakers to serve 16 years in the Legislature in any 20-year period, whether in one chamber or between both the House and Senate. Currently, Montana’s constitution states lawmakers can serve up to eight years in one chamber in any 16-year period, meaning they have to be elected to the opposite chamber to serve continuously.

Rep. Ellie Hill says her proposal would allow lawmakers to move more naturally between the House and the Senate by coordinating such a move with the term expiration of their district’s other lawmaker.

“Dick Barrett’s my senator,” the Missoula Democrat said. “Perhaps, if he’s two years beyond me, then I maybe want to serve 10 years in the House and less in the Senate or whatever works for our communities, what works best for our local situation.”

Hill said Montanans generally like their representatives, but they have shown in the past they want term limits requiring lawmakers to take a break from office every so often.

The existing term limits were enacted by Montana voters in the 1992 election. They voted down a referendum in 2004 that called for extending term limits to 12 years in either chamber in any 24-year period.

The bill was introduced on the deadline for all referendums to make it to the opposite chamber. If it passes out of the House State Administration Committee and the House as a whole, two-thirds of the Senate must vote to forgive the missed deadline and consider the bill.

If 100 members of the 150-person Legislature approve HB 639, the measure would go to voters on the November 2016 ballot.

Last week, the same committee tabled House Bill 601 from Rep. Tom Berry, R-Roundup, which would have limited service at the Legislature to 16 years in a lawmaker’s lifetime.

Also last week, the Senate State Administration Committee tabled Senate Bill 391, which Sen. Frederick Moore, R-Miles City, introduced to eliminate term limits for state legislators.

Sen. Bradley Hamlett, D-Cascade, watched his Senate Bill 383 to repeal term limits for all state and U.S. elected officials get tabled in the Senate Judiciary Committee directly after it was heard in February.