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Missouri Legislative Term Limits
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This Discussion Guide is part of Community Conversations at FOCUS St. Louis.  It is meant to initiate civil discourse around the policies that affect the St. Louis region; to hear each other’s perspective. As is the case with all public policies, this issue is complex and multi-faceted, with many stakeholders. Please keep this in mind as you discuss Missouri's legislative term limits in your community. 
Missouri Legislative Term Limits

State legislative term limits define how long state legislators can hold public office. Currently, only 15 states have legislative term limits. In states such as Illinois without legislative term limits, legislators can hold office for as many terms as they like as long as they are re-elected by their constituents. A 1992 amendment to the Missouri Constitution states that members of the state legislature can serve only eight years in either chamber of the legislature, thus no legislator can serve more than 16 years total.
There have been discussions about repealing or amending the term limits in Missouri. A proposed Constitutional Amendment was debated by the General Assembly in the 2012 session, but failed to qualify for the ballot. FOCUS will be co-sponsoring an upcoming conference on October 6, 2012 at UM St. Louis to discuss the effects of term limits in Missouri; details of the conference will be posted as soon as they are available.


In November 1992 Missourians overwhelmingly passed (with 75 percent support) an amendment to the state’s constitution creating legislative term limits. Although the amendment was incredibly popular at the time, support for term limits appears to have waned in the past decade.

Proponents believe that term limits help to prevent legislators from becoming corrupt, career politicians that would not represent the needs of their constituents. According to US Term Limits, a national grassroots group who leads the movement for strong legislative term limits, "Term limits encourage regular, competitive elections; they improve citizen access to the process; they bring a broader range of experience and perspectives to the legislature; they improve the incentives faced by sitting legislators and they widen the circle of those with intimate knowledge of state government. In sum, term limits bring the legislature closer to the people.” Also, term limits mandate turnover so many more people have been able to serve as legislators.

Such turnover is thought to bring fresh ideas and energy; however, it can drain institutional knowledge. A study conducted by the University of Missouri and the Truman School of Public Affairs found that term limits contribute to a less effective and less stable government. On average Missouri legislators now spend less than four years in office. A decade ago, House representatives served an average of nine years and Senators served about seven years on average. Term limit opponents believe the lack of experience and knowledge of the legislative process resulting from term limit turnover forces legislators to turn to lobbyists and staff, and sometimes to make decisions based on politics, not policy. The increased dependence on lobbyists and paid staff members, the only ones left with institutional knowledge, gives increased power to those unelected officials.

Whether between legislators and unelected officials or legislators and other elected officials, term limits can play an important role in the formation of legislative relationships. For example, term limits can decrease compromise incentives between legislators because there are no long term relationships formed with those they are serving with.

Some believe that the Missouri stance on term limits is not strong enough. In December 2011 State Senator Brad Lager (R) introduced a legislative bill (SJR12) to expand the term limits amendment to all statewide officials. Currently, the amendment applies to Missouri’s governor, treasurer, and legislators, but Lager’s proposal would widen term limits to include the lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, and state auditor.
Who else is involved with this issue?

Legislators themselves, regardless of party affiliation, are divided on the issue of term limits. Supporters include US Term Limits, whose slogan says they want "citizen legislators, not career politicians.” On the other hand, opponents of the current limits include many political and public policy scholars, such as those at the University of Missouri and Truman State University.
Three Possible Perspectives:

Person A believes Missouri legislative term limits are fine as they are now. Term limits were put in place to prevent legislators from becoming career politicians, and these limits require politicians to be held accountable to constituents.

Person B term limits are unnecessary and, in fact, lead to a less effective legislature. Enforcing term limits on the legislature causes brain drain to occur, and allows unelected staff and hired lobbyists to control the government.

Person C sees the pros and cons of both sides and feels that a compromise is the best solution. Term limits are required but an 8 year term limit is not enough time to properly learn and affect the legislative process, therefore term limits should be lengthened.

Discussion Questions:
  1. Which of the three people in this scenario do you most closely align with A, B. or C?  Why?
  2. Do term limits give citizens less or greater access to the legislative process?
  3. What distinguishes public servants, or citizen volunteers, from professional politicians?
  4. What public offices should have term limits? Should term limits differ for each specific office?
Links for further reading:
  1. December 30, 2011 St. Louis Post Dispatch article: Missouri term limits law prompts new legislators to sit out a week.
  2. June 25, 2012 Kansas City Star Midwest Democracy article: Critics of Missouri’s term limits say political deadlock is the result.
  3. Impact of term limits on state representative elections in 2012.
  4. Missouri Term Limits Amendment (2012).
  5. National Conference of State Legislatures: The Term Limit States.
  6. U.S. Term Limits: Comments of Philip Blumel, president, U.S. Term Limits.
  7. U.S. Term Limits: USTL Praises MO Senator Scott Rupp’s support for Term Limits Law.
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