Prop 28: Will New Term Limits for California Lawmakers Make a Difference?

The California Assembly chamber | Photo: Aquafornia/Flickr/Creative Commons License

As regular readers of my commentaries know, I am no fan of term limits. On a basic level I dislike laws that force people out of their jobs for no other reason than that they have held a post for a certain number of years. Do a wonderful job, do a terrible job, it doesn't matter, you're out.

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I also think California's term limit law is yet another example of a ballot initiative which succeeded at the ballot box but failed in application. Term limits mean our lawmakers lack experience and seniority and lobbyists increasingly have power over those lawmakers. Lawmakers are also constantly looking for their next job. Term limits don't create citizen legislators; they create a merry-go-round that politicians get on and off depending on when they are termed out.

Term limits have certainly not caused all that ails California, but they surely have done little to help.

One June 5th we will vote on a proposal to change our term limit law, passed over two decades ago in 1990. Our current law allows legislators to serve a maximum of six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate. Proposition 28 would lower the total number of years a legislator could serve, from 14 to 12, but allow legislators to serve the entire time in either house.

In the end, this is much ado about not that much. California needs real change. Working around the edges of an ineffective term limits law is hardly a serious solution to a state that chugs on with a massive structural deficit (and not to mention that constant partisan bickering).

The public deserves a deep and far reaching debate about the direction that our state should take. Instead what we have is another expensive ballot initiative unlikely to solve much at all.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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