Term Limits Are Under Debate in Arkansas

Arkansas is among the 15 states in the country with term limits for elected officials. This year, the Arkansas legislature passed a bill to tweak term limits, but voters need to ultimately decide the fate of this change via ballot. Currently state legislators can spend three two-year terms in the state House and two four-year terms in the Senate. The Amendment would increase the amount of time a member could spend in the legislature and allow legislators to spend up to 16 years total in Little Rock.

Columnist Steve Brawner quite eloquently laid out some of the arguments for and against this term limit change, in today’s Boonsville Democrat. An except from his column follows:

“This amendment tries to accomplish a lot, and the more voters are asked to approve, the more likely they are to say no. They tend to distrust complexity because they question what’s being requested or who it’s benefiting, which makes sense. Some will say, “See, those legislators are just figuring out ways to get two more years to feed at the public trough by hiding it inside this big ‘ethics amendment.’”

“I think the term limits part of this amendment is meant to solve what a lot of legislators legitimately see as a problem. Let’s discuss that part on its merits and hit the rest some other time.”

“The pros. The amendment likely would result in a more experienced Legislature with members in the House and Senate who serve up to 16 years in each particular body. The current term limits law has resulted in a Legislature without a lot of institutional knowledge – particularly in the House. Out of 100 members of the House of Representatives this past session, 40 had been elected to the Legislature for the first time in November, and none had served more than four years total except Rep. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, who previously served in the Senate. In other words, no one in the House except Altes was making laws when the state was still dealing with the Lake View school funding case that has determined where billions of dollars have been spent ever since.”

“Now the cons. Arkansas voters not only passed the term limits law with 60 percent support in 1992, but, in 2004, more than 70 percent voted against increasing the number of terms. In other words, they not only like them; they liked them more after they were passed. The whole point of term limits is to prevent a legislator from camping out in a seat and becoming entrenched, corrupted and stale. Sixteen years is pretty entrenched. Under the current system, legislators get up to 14 years – actually 16 in some Senate seats because of census redistricting – but they’re forced to leave their seat after a while, humble themselves, and ask the voters to let them serve somewhere else. Finally, these supposedly inexperienced legislators this year did fine. In fact, we’ve had term limits now for more than 20 years, and it would be hard to argue that the state is worse because of them.”

I agree with Mr. Brawner, I think that 16 years in a legislative body allows a legislator to become entrenched and this would run contrary to what term limits are supposed to do in the first place: create a citizen legislature with lots of turn over.


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