Are term limits for state lawmakers a good idea?

(The 15 states with legislative term limits.)

Maine’s tea party Gov. Paul LePage wants his state to be the latest to repeal term limits for state lawmakers.

“You’ve got to take term limits and you’ve got to throw ‘em out the window,” he said at a meeting of environmental and energy groups, according to the Bangor Daily News. “Young people with firm agendas… [are] hurting us in the long haul.”

But the research into state legislative term limits has been mixed.

Today, 15 states have limits. Maine’s went into effect in 1996, the first year they took effect in any state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. (Some members of California’s Assembly were also term-limited that year.) In 2010, 380 state lawmakers were termed out of office nationwide, according to the NCSL.

A 2006 NCSL study of term limits found they had little impact on the diversity of chambers and increased the importance of nonpartisan staff and lobbyists. Most observers said the power of lobbyists rose with limits, as new lawmakers relied on them for their policy expertise. But lobbying simultaneously became harder because relationships were so short-lived.

“Although term-limited legislators may need the policy and procedural expertise that lobbyists hold more than their non-term-limited counterparts do, they also are more likely to be suspicious of lobbyists,” the report’s authors wrote. “This creates a new and unique tension in the legislator-lobbyist relationship.”

Those findings were supported by a 2010 Wayne State University study. The influence of lobbyists in Michigan was not only maintained, but it may have been magnified by term limits, a research team found in rounds of interviews with lawmakers there. Lobbyists were also among the three most-cited determinants of whether a bill made it to the floor, they found.

Some have suggested that term limits could have other effects on the policy process, too. But studies in California and Missouri found nuanced effects and a study in July  found that, contrary to some concerns, term limits did not affect state spending one way or the other.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.
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