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Retaining Institutional Knowledge in the State Legislature

November 3, 2020
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Brittany Whitley

In 1992, Missouri voters approved lifetime term-limits for General Assembly members, limiting members to serving a maximum of eight years in each chamber. In light of state legislative term limits, there is a significant need for improved systems to access and maintain institutional knowledge. Across the United States, states have started to improve institutional knowledge by developing robust, interagency data management systems, combined with sufficient access to nonpartisan research staff and training.

Highlights

  • States with legislative term limits tend to rely heavily on lobbyists, interest groups and state agencies to provide the information needed for policy making. There is also evidence that these states spend more money and encounter difficulty making long-term and efficient budgetary decisions.
  • In order to improve evidence-based decision making, some states have recently improved their data management strategies to encourage easy access to information and information sharing across agencies, boards and commissions.
  • Another way to improve institutional knowledge has been to support hiring, training and retention of legislative staff, especially nonpartisan research staff.

Limitations

  • While it is clear that spending patterns differ in states with legislative term limits, we do not yet understand the mechanism through which term limits influence these spending differences. Additional research can help to highlight the specific strategies that might lead to the largest improvements in evidence-based budgeting.
  • Because many of the strategies to improve institutional knowledge were recently implemented, it is too early to understand the extent to which legislators utilize these programs to fill institutional knowledge gaps when there is legislative turnover.

Since the publication of this Note, we have published an addendum on State Legislative Term Limits.

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