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PD Editorial: Yes on 28: Term limits need adjusting

  • Sean Baeca's son Max places his dad's ballot in the box at a Santa Rosa polling place during the 2010 election. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

When California voters approved term limits in 1990, the intent was to eliminate power-brokering and reduce the influence of lobbyists and special interests in the state Legislature.

On that score, term limits have been an abject failure.

If anything, the power of special interests has grown as legislators, with little time to develop expertise in any particular area, depend more on lobbyists to research and write legislation that lawmakers then push through as their own.

Moreover, legislators have relatively little time to settle in to office before they start raising money toward their eventual jump from the Assembly to the Senate or vice versa — or are planning for what they will do after they’re forced out.

Fortunately, voters in the June 5 primary will have an opportunity to tweak these uncompromising rules in a way that provides more flexibility and more common sense.

Under the current limits, members of the Assembly may serve no more than three two-year terms while state senators can serve no more than two four-year terms. Combined, this means lawmakers may serve no more than 14 years.

Under Proposition 28, the limit would be lowered from 14 years to 12 years. But instead of dividing those years by switching houses, lawmakers would be able to serve out their limit in the same office — either in the Assembly or in the Senate.

The proposition would also eliminate a loophole in the current rules that allow some legislators — those who start by completing a partial term in office — to serve as many as 17 years.

The benefit of allowing a legislator to serve his or her entire time in the Assembly or the Senate, but not both, should be obvious. It will allow lawmakers to gain more experience in the legislative process as well as develop the kind of institutional memory that has been sorely lacking for the past two decades.

Voters complain that legislators are too partisan and don’t work together enough. But it’s hard for them to do that when the Assembly loses 40 percent of its members every two years.

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