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Addendum: Term Limits for State Legislators

February 19, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Elena Bickell

Executive Summary 

Term limits place restrictions on how long a legislator may hold elected office. Term limits can be divided into two broad categories: consecutive and lifetime. Consecutive term limits restrict a legislator from serving more than a particular number of years in a chamber in a row, while allowing them to be re-elected after an allotted time has passed. Under lifetime limits, a legislator who has served the maximum total allowable number of years  may never again run for election to that office. Fifteen states, including Missouri, have term limits for state legislators. Under Missouri lifetime term limits, no legislator is allowed to serve more than eight years in a single chamber (nor more than 16 years total in both houses of the General Assembly). Currently filed in 2022, there are  three proposed amendments to the Missouri constitution (HJR 77, SJR 36 and SJR 49) that would extend lifetime term limits in the Missouri General Assembly to 12 years in each chamber (24 total maximum). HJR 77 would also change House member term lengths from two to four years beginning in 2024. 

Highlights 

  • Missouri and four other states have lifetime limits on the number of years a state legislator can hold elected office.
  • Term-limited states have experienced higher legislator turnover rates after enacting limits, with larger increases in House turnover rates than Senate rates. Legislative term limits are also known to decrease policy expertise and specialization among the members.
    • Research from Missouri shows that term limits in the state have had significant effects on institutional expertise (decreased), the concentration of power in party leadership relative to the Governor (decreased), and the power of interest groups to push for policy that favors their organization (increased).
  • Proponents of institutionalized term limits say they may increase diversity by encouraging traditionally excluded groups (e.g., women, racial/ethnic minorities) to run for public office. However, studies have not found a statistically significant difference in legislator diversity between states with two-term limits and no term limits.

Limitations

  • It is difficult to fully assess the particular effects of state-level term limits because of the significant variation in types/composition of legislatures that have term limits, as well as differences in term limit design.

 

This Note is an addendum to a previous Note on Retaining Institutional Knowledge in the State Legislature.

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