Illinois term limit amendment could end up on November ballot

June 3, 2014

Republican Illinois gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner speaks to reporters about term limits for lawmakers on  April 30 in Springfield Ill. (Seth Perlman/AP)

A preliminary review of paperwork submitted by supporters show a proposed constitutional amendment to limit the terms of Illinois state legislators has enough signatures to make the ballot this November.

The amendment would limit legislators to a total of eight years in office, expand the state House by five members, to 123, and cut the size of the state Senate by nearly one third, from 59 to 41 members. It would also change the percentage of lawmakers required to overturn a governor’s veto from three-fifths to two-thirds.

The tweaks to the size of the legislature are necessary because constitutional amendments in Illinois must affect both the structure and procedure of the General Assembly to qualify for the ballot, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The review, conducted by state elections officials, showed the proposed amendment likely has at least 333,164 valid signatures — about 11 percent more than the 300,000 required to qualify for the ballot. The state Board of Elections will take the next steps by determining whether to conduct a fuller review, or simply by approving it for the ballot.

But there’s no guarantee the measure will make it on the ballot, even with enough signatures. A prominent Democratic lawyer with close ties to state House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) has filed a lawsuit challenging the proposed amendment’s viability, given that it covers so many different purposes.

Democrats think Kasper, who represented then-mayoral candidate Rahm Emanuel when Emanuel’s residency status was challenged before his 2011 election and counts Sen. Dick Durbin (D) and then-Sen. Barack Obama (D) among his past clients, has a strong argument. The Illinois constitution requires any proposed amendments that make the ballot by citizen petition “shall be limited to” subjects contained in Article IV of the constitution; Kasper says the term limits proposal goes beyond Article IV, which deals with the composition of the legislature.

Either way, the term limits conversation is likely to become an issue in the race between Gov. Pat Quinn (D) and his challenger, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner (R). Rauner was the driving force behind the term limit measure and chairs the campaign to pass the amendment; what’s more, the legislature in Springfield is deeply unpopular.

Fifteen other states impose term limits on state legislators, most of which were imposed during a term limits push during the early 1990s. Most states impose a limit of eight to 12 years in each chamber. Nine states limit legislators’ consecutive service, meaning they can leave the legislature and return; six other states — Arkansas, Michigan, Missouri, California, Oklahoma and Nevada — limit lifetime service.

Six other states that enacted term limits in 1992 or 1994 have since repealed those limits. Those states include Idaho, Massachusetts, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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