Lawmakers favor scrapping term limits - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Lawmakers favor scrapping term limits

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Posted: Thursday, February 25, 2010 4:54 pm | Updated: 3:46 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

State lawmakers voted Thursday to let themselves stay in office longer.

But they rejected a plan that would put a third of them out of work.

On a 5-2 margin, the House Judiciary Committee approved a measure that would scrap the 1992 voter-approved law that now limits state legislators to no more than four two-year terms in the same office. Several hours later the full Senate gave preliminary approval to an identical measure.

The last word, though, will rest with voters: They would have to approve the change in November.

Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, said the idea of term limits sounded good at the time. She was part of a bipartisan effort to get them enacted in the first place as reform designed to ensure fresh ideas

The reality has proven far different, with the House and Senate populated with a large number of inexperienced legislators.

That's also the assessment of Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, who took office in 2007. He is sponsoring the House version of the measure.

"Quite frankly, eight years is just too little time to really get into the saddle of the work of a legislator," he said.

Allen said it's even worse than that.

With lawmakers coming and going, she said that has left staffers as the ones with the "institutional memory." And Allen said that had led to staffers being the ones who quietly promote legislation even though they're not supposed to be setting policy.

"We have term limits," she told colleagues. "They're called elections."

Chabin's bill, HCR2039, now goes to the full House; Allen's proposal needs a final roll-call vote in the Senate before it goes to the House.

But members of the House Judiciary Committee were less interested in a more radical change.

HCR2051 was designed to make Arizona the second state in the country with a unicameral Legislature, meaning only one lawmaking chamber rather than two.

Under the plan by Rep. Ben Miranda, the 60-member House would be abolished and the size of the 30-member Senate doubled. It also would have all lawmakers elected on a non-partisan basis.

Both ideas come directly from Nebraska.

Former state Rep. Ted Downing said he studied the system and believes it makes sense. He also said it would send a "serious message that the Legislature, which is now concerned about downsizing government, cutting government, is willing to take its own position and downsize itself."

And Downing said the idea is not as radical as it seems, with cities, counties and school districts all being governed by a single legislative body.

Miranda said the nonpartisan aspect will result in less finger-pointing when something goes wrong.

Rep. Steve Montenegro, R-Litchfield Park, said he believes having a single legislative chamber would streamline things. But he said that's not necessarily a good thing.

"I think that it's brilliant that a majority of bills die," he said. "I think it should be difficult for bills to get through the Legislature to the governor and get signed because sometimes, frankly, bills are not really good bills."

The Judiciary Committee did vote unanimously to approve HCR2017 which would ask voters to extend the terms of lawmakers to four years. If that ultimately is passed by voters - and if term limits remain in place - they would be limited to two four-year terms rather than the four two-year terms now.

That bill now goes to the full House.

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